Introduction: Anarchist Geographies and Epistemologies of the State



      Anarchist and Anti-Authoritarian Geographies

      Decentering the State in Geography

      Final Thoughts


    Situating Psychedelics and the War on Drugs Within the Decolonization of Consciousness



      Psychoactive Drugs, Psychedelics, and Human Consciousness

      The US War on Drugs as a Biopolitical Enterprise

      Decoloniality and Psychedelics


    Settler Rural Imaginaries of MichFest



      Anarcha Geography, Settler Colonialism, and Heteropatriarchy


      Safety in the Woods: The Formation of Settler Rural Imaginaries

      “Nature is[Cis] Female”: Cis Fear and Settler Sexuality


    Stateless Environmentalism: The Criticism of State by Eco-Anarchist Perspectives


      Introduction: The Environmental State, a Suspicious Legitimation?

      The Unnatural S(s)tate

      An Entropic Spatial Organisation

      A Statist Discourse Uprooted From Nature

      Discussion: Divergences Within the Eco-Anarchist UtopiasAround Politics and State

      Final Remarks


    Interventions: I. Toward Broader Anarchist Geographies: Space/Place, Nation/State, and Anarchist Scholarship






    Interventions: II. Society Despite the State: An Experiment in ‘Counterfactual Statism’



      The State We Live In (Post-Statism)

      Counterfactual Statism. Destabilizing the Here and Now

      Final Thoughts


Introduction: Anarchist Geographies and Epistemologies of the State

By Gerónimo Barrera de la Torre


This special issue intends to deepen into the question of and explore epistemic avenues in knowledge production about the state in geography. This issue assembles papers and interventions that drawing on anarchist and anarchist-inspired geographies interrogate and challenge state narratives and effects through empirical and theoretical analysis. The collection situates current debates in this field conveying the potentialities and values of its epistemic tools to attain a nuanced understanding of the state and its intersection with other forms of oppression. The contributions extend the critique and reflection around the state in geography focusing on a state-decentering epistemological move, one that takes seriously the multiplicity of creative force shifting our gaze towards oppressive structure and everyday forms ofsubjugation. As well, the works explore fruitful cross-pollination between different ways of knowing the state from anti-authoritarian perspectives.

Keywords: Anarchist Geographies; State; Anti-Authoritarianism; Epistemologies; Statism


This special issue follows a growing literature that engages with anarchist and anti-authoritarian perspectives in rethinking the state’s certainty in geography and reflecting on the possibilities of spatialities emerging beyond statist logics (e.g., Clough and Blumberg 2012; Ferretti and García-Álvarez 2017; Springer 2012, 2016; and White, Springer and Souza 2016). This introduction highlights these discussions around anarchist geographies concerning the key aspects engaged by the authors. I do not intend topresent a comprehensive analysis of this emerging field in geography (as others have presented lately (e.g., Ince 2019; Springer 2016)); instead, I reflect on the special issue’s articles’ and interventions’ contributions to the field. The goal of this special issue was to assemble a series of works that set epistemic avenues in knowledge production about the state in geography, drawing from anarchist and anti-authoritarian frameworks. The intention of this collection is thus to provide evidence of the potency, nuance, and sensibilities offered by these frameworks pointing to the variety of approaches that are reshaping anarchist geographies.

The contributions collected provide empirical, theoretical, conceptual, and methodological approaches to interrogate state narratives and effects. I hope that this issue continues previous efforts in bringing this lively field in radical geographies to mainstream geography and stimulates conversations to improve our understanding of the state. Ranging from the decolonial intersection with an anarchist critique of the state, the analysis of settler colonialism through an anarcha-feminist lens or questioning statist gaze through ecological sensibilities, to interventions on the epistemic concerns regarding citational practices and counterfactualism, the works assembled here signal paths to stretch geography’s state-centric epistemic constraints. Therefore, I hope that the works collected provide avenues to multiply our epistemic tools and conceptual foundation to decenterthe state in geography. Finally, I hope the issue demonstrates the potentialities and value of anarchist and anarchist-inspired geographies, as well as denotes the fruitful cross-pollination between different ways of knowing the state.

This introductionaims to present an overview of anarchist and anarchist-inspired geographies’ trajectories and avenues in questioning the state’s place in geography. However, my intention is to point to some of the discussions and themes within this field that are addressed by the authors in this special issue. In that sense, this introduction is limited in its scope to describe and contextualize the main topics and arguments in the field and does not engage thoroughly with this wide and dynamic field. Also, this introduction briefly engages with the intersections, critiques, and cross-pollination between anarchist and other anti-authoritarian perspectives. The latter requires an in-depth and nuanced discussion that I am not able to provide here. Instead, I hope to indicatethe possibilities but also the limitations that these intersections have exposed, searching for spaces of solidarity towards a state-decentering epistemological move in the discipline. Along the same lines, I hope this special issue contributes to the field of anarchist and anarchist-inspired geographies with empirical and theoretical cases that widen epistemic avenues to examine and challenge the state. As such, the intent of this collections is to provide and contribute to extent radical and critical geographies opening of new directions in which anarchist and anti-authoritarian perspectives offer a nuanced approach, but also a shift towards state dissolution. Like any other collective work, this special issue combines the work of many people. First, the idea of this special issue emerged from a conference session at the American Association of Geographers, which took place in Washington, DC, USA in 2019, entitled “Anarchist Geographies and the Epistemologies of the State”. The works presented here were discussed in this session. Convened by Federico Ferretti, Richard White, and myself, the session aimed to expand radical geographies’ point of view on the production of geographical knowledge about the state, and was thus a continuation of previous sessions that engaged with anarchist geographies.

Anarchist and Anti-Authoritarian Geographies

Anarchist geographies are a wide and diverse field that draws on the intersections of anarchism, as a heterogenous political project and a set of day-to-day practices that opposes all forms of oppression (White and Williams 2012), and the analysis of human-nonhuman spatialities (Springer 2016). Even though this field (re)emerged in the last decade, it comes from a tradition that originated in the 19thcentury which contributed to shaping radical approaches around pedagogies, epistemologies, and practices ofthe discipline of geography and of anarchism (Ackelsberg and Breitbart 2017). The importance of these genealogies has been stressed by many authors (e.g., Ferretti 2017; Springer 2013b), highlighting anarchism and geography’s intersecting relevance in producing conceptual frameworks, epistemic approaches, and practices to problematize and engage with spatialities of hierarchical structures and day to day power dynamics (Ince 2019).

This special issue appears 150 years after the Paris Commune, installed atthe end of March of 1871, which represented one of the major popular emancipations of the time, as well as a reminder of systemic state terror. The Commune was, as Ferretti (2009) examines, a crucial event in the emergence of anarchist geographies due to its defiance of state oppressive organization through a display of popular and spontaneous self-emancipation that was definitive in the organization of the anarchist movement. Moreover, the Commune’s experience deeply influenced figures like Elisée Reclus in developing his social geographic approach, and the later formation of a circuit of anarchist geographies that, for example, “played a key role in establishing relations between anarchism and feminism.” (Ferretti 2016, 68) Anarchism’s origin is then situated geographically and historically to the West, however its iteration across the globe marked differences, evidencing the “placed-based diversity of anarchist approaches.” (Clough and Blumberg 2012, 340) As a set of practices and theories, anarchism is multiple (ranging from individualistic to social/communitarian perspectives) and in continuous change embedded in social struggles (Roman-Alcalá 2020). Risking simplifying the multiplicity and open-ended character of anarchist projects, some of the shared tenets identified include its opposition to orders based on hierarchy and coercion, instead proposing horizontal organization based on mutual aid and prefiguration that seek to create through daily practices, relations, and structures: new realities that serve as the basis for more equitable futures (Ince and Barrera 2016). Even though several works have examined anarchism’s relevance and contribution to geography, including works collected in Antipode’svolumes 10(3) and 11(1) in 1978, these perspectives remained largely disregarded and overshadowed by Marxist approaches in radical geographies until recently (Springer 2016).

Considering the variety and trajectory, as well as the location from which anarchist perspectives articulate their onto-epistemic critiques of social oppression, it is crucial to contextualize and historicize anarchisms. Moreover, questioning the state requires us to reflect on the limits and potentialities of anarchism that, even though it represents one of the main schools of thought from which to draw ideas and inspiration to engage with the state, it carries a particular history and legacies with gendered, racialized notions about the human social and territorial organization (Lagalisse 2019). However, as Ferretti (2017) has shown, the anarchist tradition in geography posed a significant precedent in challenging the “big ‘metanarratives’ of state, metaphysics, religions, and capitalism” (908), attending to the “complexity of the ‘myriads’ of diverse phenomena” (894). Anarchism therefore contests linear progress, racism, and colonialism, as well as essentialist purviews stressing, instead, individuality,and variety (see also Clark and Martin (2013) on the work of Elisée Reclus).

Even though anarchist geographies offer avenues to problematize hierarchical social formations and focus on the possibilities that exist in the here and now towards more horizontal organization (Springer 2016), this field draws, as any other, from a set ofpurviews that are necessary to acknowledge. As many of the ‘anarchist’ ideas and values are shared with other anti-authoritarian perspectives that question oppressive social organization, such as Indigenous, Black or feminist perspectives, it would be a mistake to subsume the latter into anarchism (Barrera-Bassols and Barrera 2017, Clough 2014; Taibo 2018). Furthermore, anarchism is far from a homogenous political project; instead, it rests in its inherent multiplicity that bursts into myriad ideas and practices. In that sense, following Ramnath (2011), anarchism should be situated as part of an extended family of anti-authoritarianperspectives that may intersect with different trajectories and encounters with the (left-)libertarian traditions and practices in addressing coercive and hierarchical structures. The latter has been addressed productively, bringing to the fore cross-pollination and becoming part of the ongoing struggles for more equitable societies. Instead of a self-congratulatory approach, although adhering to the anarchist rejection of a superior form of understanding the world, this issue turns to the epistemic landscapes that expand the possible analytics of the state and challenge its certainty in the ways that we understand human spatialities.

The works assembled in this special issue follow a growing interest in anarchist and other left-libertarian perspectives from the last two decades and from within activism, social movements, and the academy, signaling anarchist relevance in challenging contemporary hierarchical structures such as, for example: capitalism (el-Ojeili 2014). During this time, a series of meetings, conferences, and sessions have included or focused on anarchist geographies and geographers, bringing together a diverse group from all over the world, added to a growing literature that has shown the conceptual, methodological, pedagogical, and practical possibilities of the field of anarchist geographies. The growth of this field is demonstrated by special issues published in Antipode (Springer et al. 2012), and ACME(Clough and Blumberg 2012), collective books (White, Springer and Souza 2016), and two International Conferences of Anarchist Geographies and Geographers.

This growing literature in the discipline is placing anarchism at the center of its pedagogies, methodologies, and theories to push forward new understandings of territory (Ince 2012), the history of geographical thought (e.g., Ferretti 2014), political ecology (with a forthcoming collection of three volumes), violence and property (e.g., Springer 2013a), geography pedagogies (e.g., Springer, Lopes de Souza, and White 2016), and the role of the state in public spaces and autonomous occupations (e.g., Ince 2019; Ferrell 2012; Springer 2016), to name some examples. This body of scholarship also includes important critiques and reappraises of anarchism and anarchist geographies’ core tenets and contribution to social struggles, and acknowledges its constraints (Mansilla 2013), while also acknowledging its trajectoriesintersecting struggles and perspectives within the anti-authoritarian family in, for example, Latin America (Cusicanqui 2016). All these works denote the avenues opened by this field in stretching the boundaries of radical geography.

The analytical framing of this special issue focuses on a state-decentering epistemological move, one that takes seriously the multiplicity of creative force to shift our gaze towards oppressive structures and everyday forms of subjugation: an epistemic move in which anarchistand anti-authoritarian perspectives are in an advantageous position to advance. However, they are not unique by incorporating anarchism’s ideas and practices that oppose social formations based on hierarchy, inequality, and coercion.

Decentering the State in Geography

As Springer (2016) describes the connections between geography and anarchism, he notices this bond gives these geographies a considerable “potential to haunt the state”. Such potential focuses not only on the state as one of the main coercivestructures we live in, but the myriad everyday statisms emerging throughout institutions, social process, and personal relations (Ince 2019). The significance that anarchism gives to the state as the epitome of hierarchical organization—as a mode of authoritarian relations—has been considered the primary target of anarchist politics. This simplification misleads from anarchists’ broader concern on the critique of authority and hierarchical organizations (Ince and Barrera 2016). The latter was also decisivein the left though the schism between (left-)libertarian and Marxist traditions, a debate that persists today in geography (Ackelsberg and Breitbart 2017; Harvey 2017; Springer 2014). The focus on hierarchical organization situates the anarchist “lens” aswell suited to look at and challenge the state’s certainty (Roman-Alcalá 2020; Scott 2012) in its relations with capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and other forms of social oppression. Thus, anarchist geographies are interested in examining “the broader set of asymmetrical social and power relations typified, justified, and institutionalized by the state forming a pervasive organizing logic within society” (Ince and Barrera 2016, 11–12).This ‘statism’becomes a central feature to better understand the system of domination, allowing a “distinct narrative and epistemology that makes a notable shift in thinking by positioning the state as, essentially, ‘artificial.’”(Ince and Barrera 2016, 11–12).

The papers and interventions featured in this collection engage with the question of how to decenter the state in re-examining the praxis of geography. In this special issue, the authors interrogate theories and praxis of anarchism and draw attention to other anti-authoritarian traditions that engage with alternative notions and understandings of the state and its territorialities. Contributions in this issue draw on decolonial thinking and feminism epistemologies, which have brought insights to further the critique on statism as well as to interrogate anarchism by signaling the radical importance of its contextualization and historicization (e.g., Jeppesen, Kruzynski, and Sarrasin 2012; Lagalisse 2019; Rivera Cusicanqui 2016; Ramnath 2011). Joshua Falcon and Jacklyn Weir’s articles connect debates around decoloniality and settler colonization with anarchist perspectives.

Colonialism has been historically confronted by anarchist geographers, for example, by Elisée Reclus (Ferretti 2013). The colonialism-statism nexus is particularly relevant here. As Springer (2012, 1607) argues, there is no significant difference between “colonialism and state-making other than the scale upon which these parallel projects operate”. This re-framing of the state as colonial allows acknowledging the history that entangles these two and deepen the critique of the state as a neutral, or even state-led decolonial project vessel. Similarly, settler colonialism has received attention within the field of anarchist geographies (Barker and Pickerill 2012). However, the relation of anarchism and the settler-colonial project has been contentious, as anarchists and anarchist organizations have many times reinscribed and incorporated narratives and practices that have furthered Indigenous dispossession and failed to build solidarities (Warburton 2020; Lagalisse 2019). This is why the contextualization of anarchist and anti-authoritarian’ theories and praxis is crucial to understand and situate them. The latter is also important concerning the locus of enunciation of those of us writing in this issue who are located in the global north, either living or studying, which requires us to reflect on and situate the perspectives we are conveying here.

Acknowledging the pervasiveness of statism and its historically contingent organization that intersects with asymmetric and oppressive social relations (Ince and Barrera 2016), Falcon’s and Weier’s articles highlight gender-ed and colonial intersections with the state. Falcon explores the possibilities of classic psychedelic drugs and experiences as anarchic agents that can assist in decolonizing the spaces of consciousness in the context of the U.S. war on drugs. As statism-colonialism configures spatial epistemologies and ways of relations that naturalize sanctioning the superiority of knowledge and experiences, Falcon’s argument pays attention to the decolonization of consciousness to help challenge the heritages of these hierarchical and oppressive arrangements. The cognitive resistance of the psychedelic experiences portrayed by the author speaks to the horizons towards geographies that could grapple with and unsettle epistemic violence that pervades the discipline. On the other hand, Jacklyn Weier draws on anarcha-feminist thought to examine the relations of power and authority of the state with the legacies of settler colonialism in rural imaginaries and womyn’s separatism in the U.S. Her work signals the intersection of state mechanisms and state violence in the production of spatial imaginaries of nature and gender, and points to complex ways in which statism imbricates into the landscape of social relations.

One of the challenges in examining, unsettling, and overcoming the logics of statism is the same abstraction that the state entails. Taussig (1997, 3) dissects the ‘magic’ of the state, by starting to question “[h]ow naturally we entify and give life to such”. The state is an example of those “abstract entities we credit with Being, species of things awesome with life-force of their own, transcendent over mere mortals” (Taussig 1997, 3). Instead, it is crucial to recognize the complex, fluid arrangements through which states become, its relationality following Gustave Landauer’s (2010) definition of the state as “a social relationship, a certain way of people relating to one another” (214). Attending to the plurality and complexity of the state also allows one to question its naturalization and ubiquity. Simon Springer (2016, 48) argues that “the perpetuation of the idea that human spatiality necessitates the formation of state is writ in a discipline that has derided the ‘territorial trap’ on one hand [...], yet, on the other hand, has confoundingly refused to take the state-centricity critique in the direction of state dissolution.”

In this sense, Francisco Toro’s paper reflects on the possibilities of decentering the state to examine its role in environmental governance, drawing on the different ecological sensibilities or green criticism particularly from anarchists’ perspectives. Such ecological sensibilities present in the earlier works of anarchist geographers like Reclus remained obscured until the second half of the 20thcentury with the growing awareness of the ecological crisis. Thus, Toro considers the potentiality of this critique as a tool to problematize the naturalization of the state in the relationship between people and their territories, and going back to Springer’s comment, to explore the state’s unsustainable spatial models. The paper addresses the dynamic intersection of anarchism and ecological perspectives that has provided an array of theorizations and conceptual tools, but also elements for the praxis of new social organization, as in the Kurdish region of Rojava (Biehl and Bookchin 2015; International Commune of Rojava 2018).

Regarding the praxis of geography, Joshua Mullenite addresses the problematic citational practices of the anarchist geographies in relation to epistemic violence in the production of geographic knowledge. As Mansilla, Quintero, and Moreira-Muñoz (2019) discuss inwhat they name ‘geography of absences’ following Boaventura de Sousa’s Epistemologies of South, the coloniality of being and knowing continues to bound geographic epistemologies. The authors assert that invisibility of other geographies and the rejection of other possibilities of knowledge production continues to define intellectual colonialism in geography. Mullenite calls for engaging with other sources, particularly other anarchists “who aren’t professional geographers,” that have remained marginal in the anarchist geographies. His argument pushes us to expand the purview of these geographies and to overcome hierarchies in the production of knowledge about the state enmeshed in the academic practices. Along the same lines, Anthony Ince and my intervention in this issue is an exercise in counterfactual statism drawing on literary texts. Our reflection is part of our previous work where we argue for more nuanced examinations of statist epistemologies in geography, something we term post-statism geographies(Ince and Barrera 2016). We contend that state ubiquity is supported by the perceived linearity of time and the colonial project that establishes the path to the future of ‘civilized’ social formations. Thus, this intervention draws on sci-fi literature interrogating the state’s supposed inevitability, reaffirming its contingency, and using counterfactual writing as an analytical tool in nurturing other worlds and dislocating ‘statist’ thought through socio-spatial imaginaries that do not emerge from the logics of the state.

Final Thoughts

This brief introduction seeks to show the fertile contributions to the field of anarchist geographies that have been growing in recent years, bringing to the fore the epistemic and practical tools and left-libertarian conceptions of the world to examine people’s relation with their territories and question the practice of geography (e.g., Springer 2016; Ferretti and García-Álvarez 2017, and White, Springer and Souza 2016). This special issue incorporates critiques and possibilities towards rethinking the place of anarchist geographies in the critique of the state-centric mode of thinking in geography. Moreover, it signals intersections, limitations, and horizons in the configuration of analytical tools to enhance our understanding of statism logics and to challenge the practices of geographical knowledge production. The texts presented here point to the traces of geography’s statist-colonialist history that persist in how we write about the state (Ince and Barrera 2016, 10), but mostly signal epistemic routes ahead. Following Springer (2016, 176–177), I hope this collection serves to “cast our view toward the horizon,” to “suggest a direction and a future but never a restriction of our movement,” as a contribution to other geographies that prefigure more liberating and equitable horizons.


I want to extend my special thanks to Simon Springer who accompanied the publication process, for his consideration and generosity in preparing this special issue. Also, I want to thank the authors for their patience as well as their enthusiasm preparing these engaging articles and interventions from what we presented at the AAG session back in 2019. Finally, I acknowledge the work of the papers, interventions and this introduction’s anonymous reviewers for their thorough comments, Anthony Ince for his review of this introduction, and the ACME Collective for their help reviewing and editing this introduction, and their support in making this issue possible.

Situating Psychedelics and the War on Drugs Within the Decolonization of Consciousness

By Joshua Falcon


This article provides a rationale for understanding the United States’ war on drugs as a biopolitical enterprise that restricts the states of consciousness humans can avail themselves to. Given the intimate relationship between psychoactive drugs and human cognition, perception, and behavior, the tactics of illegalization, persecution, and misinformation mobilized by the war on drugs have inherently delimited the conscious states available to the population. Drug regulations and prohibitions in contemporary US society have resulted in a biopolitical normalization of consciousness that reinvokes colonial refrains of domination historically mobilized against traditional ritual, healing, and spiritual practices and pharmacopeias. From a decolonial perspective, the biopolitical delimitation of consciousness ensuing from the war on drugs can be understood as a form of epistemic hegemony insofar as the alternate states brought about by certain drugs, in this case psychedelic substances, are delegitimized despite an array of evidence attesting to their epistemological, therapeutic, and philosophical import. By examining contemporary research on classic psychedelics, this article illustrates how psychedelics temporarily suppress the top-down structures which maintain normal waking consciousness, including the perceptual and conceptual boundaries that influence behavior. As such, this article examines how classic psychedelic drugs and experiences can be understood as anarchic agents that can assist in decolonizing the spaces of consciousness wherein unyielding colonial patterns of thought have become concretized.

Keywords: Biopolitics; Consciousness; Decoloniality; Psychedelics; War on Drugs


Anarchist, post-anarchist, and critical theorists in human geography have managed to bypass a direct engagement with human consciousness as a pharmacologically mediated political arena. While Marxist and anarchist thinkers alike have examined false, class, historical, and radical consciousness (Debord 1974;Harvey 1990; Reclus 2013), the production of consciousness (Smith 2008), andconsciousness raising practices (Gramsci 2007; Routledge 2017, 147), insufficient attention has been directed towards the pharmacological and biological dimensions of human consciousness as a political domain. Given the omnipresence of psychoactive substances in contemporary American society, ranging from food items to pharmaceutical drugs (Szasz 2007; De Sutter 2018), critical theorists have much to gain by analyzing the psychopharmacological dimensions of human consciousness and the political implications which stem thereof. By exploring the political facets of consciousness through the lens of anarchist thought, this article maintains that the United States’ war on drugs constitutes a systematic form of oppression which exploits human physiology in ways that favor the ruling capitalist logic and its philosophical underpinnings.Since anarchist thinkers, from Reclus onward, have sought to abolish “all forms” of exploitation, domination, and systems of rule, whether they be exercised within the social body or upon the Earth and nonhuman others (Springer 2012, 1606; Springer et al. 2012, 1593), the delimitation of consciousness imposed through drug prohibition and regulation signals a form of exploitation that operates at the most intimate level of thought, feeling, and perception, as well as on the capacity to form social relations and acquire knowledge.

In order to appreciate how the anarchic call to reject oppression in all its forms must include the liberation of the modes of consciousness humans can avail themselves to, the governmental regulations on psychoactive substances must be approached as constituting a system of rule that results in the domination of human bodies through the management of consciousness. The very fact that humans have a spectrum of conscious states they can experience has broad implications for critical and radical geographers insofar as different states of consciousness can be understood as conferring unique potentialities or diminishments to particular aspects of human cognition, physiology, behavior, and affectual capacities (Roberts 2019). Taking a look at the ‘classic psychedelic’ substances as a case in point, contemporary neuropharmacological research shows that these substances tend to provoke ‘anarchic’ brain states that not only enhance levels of entropy in the brain, but also temporarily diminish top-down, hierarchical brain processes while increasing connectivity and bottom-up flows of information (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019, 336). Apart from the wide range of therapeutic effects psychedelic drugs and experiences exhibit (Kuypers 2019), novel findings also support correlations between psychedelic use and increases in empathy and nature-relatedness (Pokorny et al. 2017; Kettner et al. 2019), as well as potential decreases in authoritarian political views (Lyons and Carhart-Harris 2018). Although each contemporary scientific study on psychedelics must be taken in its proper context, the evidence currently amassing nevertheless directly contradicts the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Schedule 1 classification of psychedelic drugs as extremely dangerous substances that have a high potential for abuse and no known medicinal value (DEA 2020).

To better understand why psychedelic substances have been rendered illegal in the US, I draw on Foucault’s (1978; 2003; 2007) remarks on biopolitics to illustrate how the biological management of the population has long been a mechanism of governance enacted upon human bodies. Viewed through the lens of biopolitics, the war on drugs can be seen as a form of biopolitical governance which encompasses the management of human thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and affectual capacities through the pharmacological management of consciousness. The biopolitical modification of consciousness also has greater implications insofar as psychedelics have, and continue to be, used as epistemic vectors for the acquisition of knowledge. Taking psilocybin-containing mushrooms as an example, they have traditionally been used across manyMesoamerican native communities for over 2,000 years, for purposes ranging from resolving social conflicts and recovering missing items, to detecting causes of illnesses and acquiring special forms of knowledge (Schultes, Hoffman and Rätsch 1998, 158; Rätsch 2005, 671). The epistemic import of psychedelic experiences is also reflected in contemporary research wherein psychedelics have proven to reliably provoke mystical experiences with noetic qualities (MacLean et al. 2012). Insofar as psychedelic experiences can be understood as potentially having epistemological import (Luna 2016, 279), they signal alternative ways of knowing, making their contemporary demonization and suppression reminiscent of colonial refrains of domination enacted against pagan and indigenous pharmacopeias and traditional practices designed to provoke alternate modes of consciousness.

In reflecting on the epistemological import of psychedelic experiences, this article also draws on decolonial thought to not only argue that alternate states of consciousness may serve as epistemological tools of cognitive resistance, but also to reveal how ordinary normal waking consciousness is the product of a particular configuration of social relations. The epistemic dimension of psychedelic experiences, when viewed from a decolonial perspective emanating from the Global South (Quijano 2000; Alcoff 2007; Maldonado-Torres 2007; Moraña, Dussel, and Jáuregui 2008), can be understood as one of many epistemes, such as dreams and intuitions, that have been eradicated through the global epistemicide produced by the coloniality of power (Mignolo 2012; Santos 2018, 9). In applying decolonial theory to the war on drugs, this article seeks to “interrogate the legacies of European colonialism in contemporary social orders and forms of knowledge” (Oslender 2019). By advancing the theories of biopolitics and decoloniality, I argue that the US war on drugs constitutes a biopolitical enterprise that delimits alternative ways of knowing and being in the world.

This article seeks to make three contributions to radical geography: first, it brings the political dimensions of consciousness to the fore by elucidating on the intimate relationship that psychoactive drugs have to human cognition, perception, and behavior; second, this article extends the concept of biopolitics to include the war on drugs as a biopolitical mechanism aimed at the delimitation of alternate epistemic and experiential sources that fall outside of state sanctioned paradigms; and lastly, it offers a novel take on decolonial theory by considering the experiences provoked by classic psychedelics as potential wellsprings of epistemological import and therefore alternative ways of knowing and being in the world. As a response to the biopolitical management of consciousness enacted by the war on drugs, I maintain that psychedelics can be utilized as anarchic agents to assist in decolonizing normalized states of consciousness while disrupting the epistemic and conceptual heritages of coloniality. Insofar as consciousness is fundamental to one’s sense of volition and subjectivity, serving as the veil through which humans construe reality, this article extends an invitation to critical theorists to further explore how different psychoactive substances might affect one’s philosophical and political commitments, as well as one’s ability to forge new forms of subjectivity and ways of relating to oneself, others, society, and nature.

Psychoactive Drugs, Psychedelics, and Human Consciousness

Although the human history of psychoactive drug use predates the historical record itself (Guerra-Doce 2015; Samorini 2019), psychoactive substances continue to be consumed across virtually all human societies in the world today (Rätsch 2005; McKenna et al. 2017). It should come as no surprise, however, that humans have always used psychoactive drugs—or chemical substances used to attain desirable effects (Iversen 2001)—for a variety of reasons, including curing disease, increasing immunological resistance, enhancing physicaland mental endurance, aiding in sleep, changing moods, and altering perception (Szasz 1996, xxiii). For those familiar with ethnopharmacology, it is common knowledge that pharmacopeias and drug use are relative to each culture (De Rios and Smith 1977). Asanthropologist Andrea Blätter (1994, 123) has observed:

In different cultures, drugs are often used in completely different manners. This demonstrates that the consumption of drugs is culturally shaped to a very large extent. Which substances are used, when, by whom, how, how often, and in which dosage, where, with whom, and why, and also which conceptions are related to this are largely dependent upon the cultural membership of a user. Because of these influences, inebriation is experienced and lived out in very different ways, and a drug may be used for different purposes, may be assigned different functions (quoted in Rätsch 2005, 13).

Since psychoactive drug use is highly variable and relative to each society, when one examines the drugs that have been integrated and sanctioned within the United States and Europe, one finds caffeine, alcohol, and sugar holding a pride of place. Sugar itself is fascinating insofar as it not only subtly provokes certain modes of cognition and perception as an ingredient present in a panoply of food items, but it has also contributed significantly to the capitalistic transformation of Western society through the remaking its economic and social foundations (Mintz 1986, 214). Once the omnipresence and cultural relativityof drug use is recognized and acknowledged, however, two things become clear: first, it becomes evident that each cultural pharmacopeia reflects certain societal values and implicit philosophical commitments; and second, it leads one to question how different psychoactive drugs, including those not contained within one’s sanctioned cultural selection, might affect one’s psychological, physiological, and genetic makeup. Since psychoactive drugs ultimately alter human perceptions, behaviors, and cognitive abilities depending on what types of substances are consumed and how their effects are managed, it leads one to wonder what effects culturally unauthorized drugs might confer, as well as to question to what ends culturally integrated drugs lend themselves.

This article explores these lines of inquiry by taking the psychoactive substances referred to in pharmacological literature as the ‘classic psychedelics’—which include dimethyltryptamine (DMT), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, and psilocybin (Johnson et al. 2019)—as a case in point. Since their initial ingression into the United States and Europe as an object of scientific knowledge during the early to mid-twentieth century, psychedelic plants, fungi, and substances have been approached from a number of disciplinary vantage points. From an evolutionary biological standpoint, it has been argued that early humans coevolved with psychedelics insofar as they served as exogeneous neurotransmitters that helped spur the development of certain cognitivecapacities (Sullivan and Hagen 2002; Sullivan, Hagen, and Hammerstein 2008; Winkelman 2017). Anthropological studies have shown that psychedelics are linked to traditional healing practices across the globe (Ott 1992; Schultes, Hofmann, and Rätsch 1998; McKenna et al. 2017; Torres 2019; Winkelman 2019), in addition to being revered as sacred entities which bestow arcane forms of knowledge (Luna 1984; Winkelman 2002). Psychologists and psychopharmacologists alike have further maintained that psychedelics can provoke transpersonal, religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences, the effects of which tend to be remarkably transformative in the lives of those individuals who experience them (Smith et al. 2004;Griffiths et al. 2006;Richards 2008;Griffiths et al. 2011; Roberts 2013).

Today, the evolutionary, quasi-religious, therapeutic, and epistemological dimensions of psychedelic substances and experiences are being corroborated by contemporary neuroscientific and pharmacological research. While the literature is predominately centered on the therapeutic aspects of psychedelics (Kuypers 2019), with research supporting the efficacy of psychedelics in treating an array of mental health issues such as depression (McCorvy, Olsen, and Roth 2016; Palhano-Fontes etal. 2019; Davis et al. 2020) and substance abuse (Bogenschutz 2017; Johnson, Garcia-Romeu, and Griffiths 2017; Noorani et al. 2018), key studies have shown that psychedelic experiences can also lead to lasting changes in personality and brain structure (Bouso et al. 2018). Further research suggests that psychedelic experiences can lead to increases in empathy, wellbeing, and creative thinking (Pokorny et al. 2017; Mason et al. 2019), nature-relatedness (Lyons and Carhart-Harris 2018; Kettner et al. 2019), and pro-environmental behaviors (Forstmann and Sagioglou 2017). Studies on psilocybin, considered as the predominant psychoactive ingredient found in “magic mushrooms,” show that experiences induced by psilocybin can lead to surges in life satisfaction andaltruism (Griffiths et al. 2011, 162), in addition to positive “long-term changes in behaviors, attitudes, and values” (MacLean, Johnson, and Griffiths 2011, 1453). Researchers suggest that both the phenomenological elements and transformative effects of these psilocybin-induced experiences not only map onto philosophical typologies of mysticism, but that they can reliably be experienced in in healthy human subjects, making them “biologically normal” (Griffiths et al. 2011, 664).

Psychedelic experiences have also recently been analyzed in terms of their neuropsychopharmacology, where researchers have shown them to coincide with a temporary suppression of the Default-Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is described as a dominant neural network which constrains cognition by suppressing entropy levels in the brain during most normal waking states of consciousness (Carhart-Harris et. al. 2018). Not only does the DMN reinforce high-level priors, or beliefs, in a top-down fashion, but it tends to suppress bottom-up flowsof information as well (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019). In contrast to the constrained styles of cognition that are associated with normal waking consciousness, psychedelic substances tend to enable “unconstrained” modes of cognition (Carhart-Harris et al. 2012). These unconstrained modes of consciousness, or “anarchic” brain states, not only enhance levels of entropy in the brain, but also temporarily diminish the top-down, hierarchical processes associated with the DMN while increasing global neurological connectivity and bottom-up flows of information (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019, 336). One’s sense of self, or “ego,” is regarded as being intimately linked with the DMN insofar as its constraining effects on cognition are thought create the conditions for the emergence of reasoning and metacognition (Carhart-Harris et al. 2014, 6; Swanson 2018). When the default mode network’s activity is temporarily suppressed by psychedelic substances, one often experiences a dissolution of the perceptual and conceptual boundaries between self and world: “this sense of merging into some larger totality is of course one of the hallmarks of the mystical experience; our sense of individuality and separateness hinges on a bounded self and a clear demarcation between subject and object” (Pollan 2018, 305).

The experiences of ego-dissolution associated with psychedelic experiences are also positively correlated with increased therapeutic effects (Griffiths et al. 2008, 631), the destabilization of rigid beliefs and thoughtpatterns (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019), and the ability promote exploratory and divergent modes of thought (Carhart-Harris 2018). Beyond their pharmacological ego-suppressing effects, there is also the phenomenological experience of losing oneself that plays a key extra-pharmacological role in how personality changes occur, such as increases in empathy (Pokorny et al. 2017), decreased authoritarian political views (Lyons and Carhart-Harris 2018), and even renewed perceptions of connectedness to oneself, others, and the world (Carhart-Harris et al. 2018). More suggestively, these findings may lend credence to previous associations made between psychedelic experiences and newfound philosophical beliefs based on relationality and nonduality as ontologically and ethically fundamental precepts (Levinas 1969; Osto 2016). It is interesting to note that the psychometric heuristics used to understand psychedelic-mystical experiences in psychopharmacology today draw inspiration from William James’ philosophy of religion. In 1902, James (2004, 329) developed a fourfold typology of mysticism, one of the elements of which is a noetic quality:

Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.

This noetic quality described by James is also operationalized to study psychedelic experiences in today’s scientific literature (Griffiths et al. 2011; MacLean et al. 2012), further supporting longstanding attributions made to psychedelic plants and fungi as “plant teachers” that confer special types of knowledge (Luna 1984; Tupper 2002).

Admittedly, the history and scientific literature on psychedelics and their effects is much more expansive and controversial than what has been alluded to here (Pollan 2018). For example, thousands of early scientific studies attested to their medicinal efficacy before psychedelics were eventually made illegal and scientific research became suppressed (Mangini 1998; Dyck 2006). No universal statements can be made about the effects of psychedelic substances either, insofar as there are a multiplicity of factors that influence the effects of psychedelic experiences beyond their pharmacological properties alone (Hartogsohn 2017). To complicate matters evenfurther, psychedelic experiences can potentially have adverse effects on certain individuals in certain contexts, while one also runs the risk of persecution if found with psychedelics insofar as they remain illegal in the United States. Furthermore, there are issues involving the commodification of indigenous knowledge and biopiracy associated with psychedelics, in addition to the cultural appropriation that is rampant in many psychedelic communities.

Notwithstanding these caveats, however, there is nevertheless sufficient evidence to warrant the claim that psychedelic experiences can potentially help to destabilize inherited patterns of thought that have become concretized over time, including the belief in the individual as an isolated and separate self. What evidence now shows it that when utilized in constructive ways, psychedelics can work to deconstruct one’s ordinarily held beliefs, including one’s sense of self and one’s conceptual understanding of reality, in addition to increasing both neurological and phenomenological interconnectedness. Although each psychedelic event must be understood in its own unique context (Malins 2004), the boundary dissolving effects of psychedelic experiences can potentially be used to combat the effects of reductionistic materialism and substance metaphysics, including the severing of relations and alienation from nature that these ideologies spawn. Seen in such a light, classic psychedelics can be utilized as anarchic agents to assist in deterritorializing colonial philosophical heritages, while also offering an experiential basis from which to develop an expanded moral and political compass based on ontologies of interconnectedness and interrelatedness (Levinas 1969, 48). Since psychedelic substances remain illegal in the United States and in many other countries, however, it requires an investigation into the governmental rationality that undergirds the United States’ war on drugs itself.

The US War on Drugs as a Biopolitical Enterprise

To substantiate the claim that the war on drugs is a biopolitical enterprise that delimits the spectrum of human consciousness, the war on drugs must first be contextualized within the wider history of drug prohibition in the United States. The regulation and banning of select psychoactive substances began in the nineteenth century in the US, eventually leading to the first federal tax imposed on opium and morphine in 1890 (Redford and Powell 2016, 514). Although alcohol was prohibited in specific counties and states during this time period, the year 1909 would witness, after a series of prior measures aimed against Chinese immigrants, the passing of the Opium Exclusion Act which constituted the first law banning the non-medical use of a substance (Ahmad 2007, 82). Due to a series of “unintended consequences” stemming from early antidrug policies (Redford and Powell 2016, 509), US Congress passed the Harrison Act of 1914 as the “first major federal anti-drug legislation” (Caquet 2021, 207). The Harrison Act was designed to tax and regulate the importation, manufacture, and distribution of coca and opiates, including their derivatives, while also making it illegal for citizens to purchase or sell these substances without written medical consent (Caquet 2021, 209).

The significance of the Harrison Act is that it set the stage for the prohibition of other substances such as alcohol and cannabis throughout the early to mid-twentieth century. It also laid the groundwork for the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, along with the subsequent “War on Drugs” that would ensue. To combat America’s so-called “drug problem” (Nadelmann 1991), Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, thereby creating an enduring governmental enterprise with multivalent apparatuses that has come to serve as the foundation for the biopolitical regulation of consciousness. Whereas the CSA categorized drugs such as marijuana and classic psychedelics as highly dangerous Schedule 1 substances that have no known medicinal value and a high potential for abuse, it also allocated vast amounts of federal resources to drug-control agencies while proposing mandatory minimum prison sentences and other strict measures on drug-related crimes. Nixon’s war on drugs would eventually culminate in the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973 during the Reagan presidency, thereby spawning a federally funded specialized police unit designed to target illegal drug use, importation, and distribution, in addition to introducing a series of anti-drug measures (Benavie 2012).

Although the war on drugs was temporarily relaxed during the Jimmy Carter era to a certain extent, President Ronald Reagan reinvigorated the war on drugs by increasing the penalties of drug-related crimes, expanding anti-drug policies, and launching his own “Just Say No” educational campaign against drugs. The Reagan era fortified the anti-drug discourse and legal measures initiated by the Nixon administration, while also portraying illegal drugs enemy weaponry, providing police access to military cooperation, and financially incentivized the targeting of drug offenders (Kuzmarov 2018). During Reagan’s time as president, the US would usher in an unprecedented influx of incarcerations of individuals for nonviolent crimes, with severe penalties being carried out for nonviolent drug-related offenses.Mass incarceration for drug-related crimes continues today, resulting in drastically disproportionate imprisonment rates for people of color when compared to their white counterparts, and also contributing significantly to America being the leading nation in incarceration (Kuzmarov 2018). Tracing this thread back, several critical thinkers have argued that the war on drugs can be understood as a war against particular social and racial groups; its legal precursors historically targeted Chinese immigrants during the early prohibitions of cocaine and opium (Szasz 1974), while the war on drugs itself targeted both the anti-war left and racial minorities during the Nixon era (Baum 2016, 22).

Today, the war on drugscontinues to disproportionately funnel black and brown bodies through the prison-industrial-complex which generates profits off of their incarceration (Alexander 2020). As Carl Hart (2013, 5) puts it, “poor people, especially black” continue to excessively suffer the ill effects of the war on drugs through police saturation of so called “troubled neighborhoods.” Furthermore, the war on drugs has helped to “sustain social inequality and socioeconomic disadvantages,” while also contributing to enduring disparities in areas such as health (Singer 2008, 235). Since “most of what people identify as part and parcel of the drug problem are in fact the results of drug prohibition” (Nadelmann, Kleinman, and Earls 1990, 45), the adverse repercussions caused by the war on drugs can be considered nothing other than an “unnatural disaster” (Duke 1995). Moreover, while successful, rationally driven, and economically sound alternatives to the drug war have been formulated and even realized in other countries (Nadelmann 1991; Nadelmann 2014), the legalization, taxation, and decriminalization of certain drugs still has not been considered a serious possibility within the US, with the sole exception of Oregon’s decriminalization of drug possession ruling passed during the 2020 US election.

The oppressive and neocolonial effects that the war on drugs engenders are arguably more insidious when one realizes that the war on drugs also affects the most intimate aspects of one’s being given the intimate relationship between humans and psychoactive substances. In a general sense, the Euro-American narrowing of potential conscious states and psychoactive substances can be linked to historical events with lasting repercussions, including European imperialism, forced Christianization, thepersecution of traditional healers and so-called witches, the European Enlightenment, positivism, and the Inquisition; all instances wherein the practices and knowledges of particular social groups, including their use of unfamiliar psychoactive substances, were banned and demonized (McKenna 1992; Rätsch2005, 13). Today, the prohibition of certain drugs, along with the subsequent delimitation of conscious states this entails, can be seen as having resonances with earlier colonial projects, leading some toconsider the US war on drugs as a modern-day witch hunt and holy war (Szasz 1974; Benavie 2012). Furthermore, the war on drugs depicts drug users as morally degenerate societal deviants, while also representing those who use illegal drugs as criminals that threaten national security (Lovering 2015; Monteith 2018).

Tracing this trajectory into contemporary times, it helps to approach the governmental rationality that accompanies the war on drugs today through the lens of biopower developed by Michel Foucault (1978; 2003; 2007). Biopower, according to Foucault (2007, 1), refers to new governmental strategies developed during the eighteenth century which aimed at managing the biological aspects of the population. Together with technological and theoretical advancements in mathematics and biology, a new conceptual understanding of humans as a biological species arose in accordance with statistical analysis and other forms of knowledge. These innovative technologies and knowledges afforded governments a newfoundway to manage the social body through the operationalization of the population. Thus, the biological management of humans as a species became a novel domain of governmental intervention in eighteenth-century European societies. For Foucault, the new measures of social control which biopower spawned were disciplinary and biopolitical mechanisms. Like other mechanisms designed to normalize society, biopolitics constitutes a “technology of security” that strives to modify “something in the biological destiny of the species” (Foucault 2007, 10). Biopolitics proceeds through targeting populations and organizing them in ways that are productive for the state. Biopolitical forms of power operate as intermediates between “men and things” (Foucault, 2007, 96), playing an active role on the relations that can be obtained between members of the population and “nature” (Foucault 2007, 69). In contrast, Foucault (1978, 139) refers to the secondary form of biopower as “anatomo-politics,” or disciplinary mechanisms, which operate through punishment, surveillance, and training as essential strategies for controlling the human body at another scale. Discipline and biopolitics arrange themselves in unique ways to suit different sociopolitical contexts, working in a synergisticway to control aspects of life ranging from the population to the human body (Foucault 2003, 242; Coleman and Grove 2009, 493).

As a heuristic, biopower and biopolitics have lent themselves to a wide range of study (see Lemke 2011). Critical theorists have drawn on biopolitics to help analyze geographies in which irremediable violence occurs (Agamben 1998), and also to explore how biopolitics functions through embodiment, affect, disaster management, resilience, and participatory development to name a few(Guthman 2009; Anderson 2011; Grove 2014; Grove and Pugh 2015; Gallo 2017). In bringing Foucault’s concept of biopolitics into conversation with the war on drugs in the United States, I argue that the biological control and management of human states of consciousness through the regulation of drugs is an unexamined area of biopolitical management. For it is through the control and management of certain psychoactive substances, including the concomitant states of consciousness they provoke, that human experience and knowledge is delimited by governmental apparatuses. Psychedelic substances, once again, are an exemplary case insofar as the states of consciousness they provoke have historically been regarded as deviant from the established hegemonic norm knownin psychological literature as “normal waking consciousness” (Edwards 2016). Furthermore, psychedelic states have proven to have epistemological, therapeutic, and arguably even ethical import as I demonstrated in the previous section.

Researchers that study alternate states of consciousness have argued that ordinary, normal waking consciousness is but one of many “mindbody” states that humans can avail themselves to, each of which has a unique ability to enhance certain psychosomatic potentialities or reduce others (Tart 1983; Roberts 2019). In considering ordinary normal waking consciousness as a cultural production that is reinforced through drug regulation, it brings consciousness itself as a political domain to light. While many haveargued that psychedelic substances have “psychointegrative” properties and can be used as “psychotechnologies” for healing, epistemic, and moral enhancing purposes (Winkelman 2001; Tupper 2002; Roberts 2013), the war on drugs has nevertheless categorized psychedelics under the most stringent of categories of psychoactive substances while persecuting those who use, cultivate, or distribute them. Through both biopolitical and disciplinary apparatuses, the war on drugs operates on two scales: it first mediates human relations to nature through the psychopharmacological management of the population on one level, while it also depicts those who consume psychedelics as morally degenerate criminals that threaten society on another (Szasz 1974; Lovering 2015; Monteith 2018). The epistemological, therapeutic, and philosophical dimensions of psychedelic states of consciousness are therefore denied to the population through the war on drugs biopolitical enterprise, as is the ability to experience oneself in a new and expanded way. As the following section will illustrate, the biopolitics of consciousness enacted through the war on drugs takes on further significance insofar as its subjugation of consciousness also atrophies other ways of knowing, being, and relating in the world.

Decoloniality and Psychedelics

Critical theorists who write on decolonization vary extensively in terms of their research foci, the manner in which they situate themselves in academic literature, and in the purposes towards which their analyticelucidations aim. Decolonial theorists therefore form a multivalent assortment, with scholars addressing themes ranging from decolonizing methodologies (Smith 2012), decolonizing education (Bird 2005; Tuck and Yang 2012; Zavala 2013), decolonizing the imaginary (Latouche 2015; Feola 2019), and everyday acts of resurgence to name a few (Corntassel 2018). In the tradition of decoloniality which emanates from the Global South, there is an ethical imperative that calls for the weaving of “a world in which manyworlds fit” (Escobar 2018, xvi; Mignolo 2018; Oslender 2019, 1693). The tradition of decoloniality positions itself as a direct response to the concept of coloniality—that is, the patterns of domination that emerged during early colonialism, but which continue to define knowledge production, culture, intersubjective relations, and labor relations (Maldonado-Torres 2007, 243; Schulz 2017, 129). Decolonial thought stresses that the colonial patterns of domination initiated by the early conquests are enduring, for they also operate on an epistemological level by establishing hegemonic knowledge systems referred to as “the coloniality of power” (Mignolo and Walsh 2018, 140).

As a hegemonic knowledge system, the coloniality of power works to distribute aesthetic, moral, and epistemic resources in ways that not only reflect, but also reproduce, imperial logic (Quijano 2000; Alcoff 2007, 83; Mignolo 2009; 2012). The coloniality of power was not only operative during the early European conquests across the Global South, but it was further fortified in the seventeenth century with the mechanistic philosophy of the René Descartes. Descartes’ philosophy not only resulted in the philosophical bifurcation of nature by separating mind from matter and reducing animals andnature to automata, but it also lent itself the fortification of capitalism by reinforcing the idea of the individual as an isolated self that remains separate from its environment. The coloniality of power’s epistemological hegemony has also been understood as constituting a “cognitive empire” which proceeds by eradicating other ways of knowing through a global “epistemicide” (Santos 2018, 9). Moreover, the coloniality of power is also equipped with a self-defense mechanism which renders it immune to critique insofar as it entails a “circularity of reasoning that [has] preempted the possibility of having an outside critique of epistemology” (Alcoff 2007, 95). Through its deployment of these epistemicidal and self-defense mechanisms, the coloniality of power has led to the belief that there are no alternative ways of understanding the world, for “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,” including the forms of patriarchy and reductionistic scientism it demands(Fisher 2009, 2).

As a response to the coloniality of power and its self-generated immunity to critique, decolonial thought works to expose coloniality’s epistemic hegemony and suppression of alternative epistemological paradigms. It highlights that other ways of knowing have historically been denied by Eurocentric canons entrenched in occularcentrism, propositional knowledge, formal logic, and means of justification (Mignolo 2002; Alcoff 2007, 93). These criteria for what can count as proper knowledge have placed limitations on what can be known insofar as other ways of acquiring knowledge have been illegitimated due to their inability to conform to these formal rules. Decolonial thinkers maintain that “multiple ways of being and knowing have always existed outside of the modern scientific worldview,” and that these other ways of knowing and being stand as testament to the fact that other worlds and forms of social relations are possible (Schulz 2017, 138). The seeds of resistance for decolonial theorists therefore stem from “the experiences and views of the world and history of those [...] who have been, and continue to be, subjected to the standards of modernity” (Mignolo 2005, 8).

For decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo (2012, 9), the return of gnosis signals a mode of decolonial thinking that is needed to recover epistemes that have historically been subjugated by the coloniality of power. By bringing the “geo-and body-politics of knowledge” to the fore, decolonial thought brings attention to the fact that alternative epistemologies have historically been silenced and “radically devalued” by “Western epistemology” (Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012, 4). What geo-and body-politics of knowledge ultimately offer, however, are decolonial possibilities such as “epistemic disobedience” that disparate groups can mobilize in the renewal and recovery of their own particular and local histories (Mignolo and Tlostanova 2006; Mignolo 2009, 15). By placing the “locus of enunciation” in communities as a means of delinking “the production of subjects through discourses and practices linked to the exercise of power” (Tlostanova and Mignolo 2012, 43), decoloniality thereby creates a space for the emergence of alternate, self-constitutive forms of knowledge and subjectivity (Escobar 2008, 205).

One may wonder, however, in the context of decoloniality, where science has often been portrayed as operating as a neocolonial mechanism, what role the science and rational thought have in this conversation. Psychedelics present a curious case insofar as they remain illegal in the US, while those practices and peoples associated with psychedelic substances have endured decades, if not centuries, of oppression. There has also been a suppression of scientific research on psychedelics until recently due to funding restrictions as well as both public and scientific perception of them (Miller 2017, 14). From a decolonial perspective, however, scientific thinking and practice may be put to subversive use through “counterhegemonic appropriation” (Santos 2018, 30). Counterhegemonic appropriations refer to philosophies, concepts, and practices spawned by “dominant social groups” but which become “appropriated by oppressed groups.” In the process, counterhegemonic appropriations reconfigure and re-signify dominant ways of knowing and mobilize them as tools that can arm one in “struggles against domination” (Santos 2018, 31). In this sense, once modern science takes its place among other ways of knowing in the “ecologies of knowledges,” it can be utilizedas a valuable tool “in the struggles against oppression” (Santos 2018, 45).

In drawing on decolonial thought, this article gains a conceptual framework through which to understand psychedelic experiences insofar as their epistemological import and unexplored potentials have historically been dominated by “the colonial matrix of power” (Mignolo and Walsh 2018, 6). Not only have the therapeutic, spiritual, and epistemological dimensions of psychedelic substances and experiences been denied to the US population given the illegalization of psychedelic drugs, but the self-expanding and positive psychosocial effects psychedelic experiences confer have also been negated. By restricting the population’s ability to experience the alternate modes of consciousness brought about by psychedelic drugs, the war on drugs extends the longstanding colonial legacy of delimiting human consciousness, while more recentlyestablishing “normal waking consciousness” as a hegemonic norm (Edwards 2016). More importantly, as the regimes of truth established by the coloniality of power continue to delegitimize all epistemic claims which fall outside of the occularcentric, logocentric, and positivist frameworks (Tuathail 1996, 84), alternative means of acquiring knowledge through visionary experiences, dreams, intuitions, or psychedelic states of consciousness have also been dismissed as illegitimate.

When viewed from the perspective of the coloniality of power, the noetic quality and profound insights psychedelic experiences tend to confer can be understood as subjugated forms of knowledge and alternative understandings of the world that have been suppressed in Euro-American cultures for centuries (Foucault 2003, 10). However, when used in intentional and constructive ways, psychedelic substances and the experience they provoke can facilitate the ability to revise of one’s previously held beliefs and conceptual heritage (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019), enforce stronger links between one’s sense of environment and one’s sense of self (Tagliazucchi et al. 2016), and even enhance feeling of connectedness to oneself, others, and the world at large (Carhart-Harris et al. 2018). By utilizing the conceptual framework of decoloniality, psychedelic experiences can thus be understood as forms of epistemic disobedience and alternative routes of acquiring knowledge that fall outside of the coloniality of power and the coloniality of nature (Escobar 2008). Since some of the purposes to which classic psychedelics have been put in the United States involve self-exploration and acquiring deep insights about oneself and one’s relations, psychedelic experiences can also be understood as effective technologies of the self insofar as they can potentially be used as tools to assist in the resingularization of subjectivity (Foucault 1988; Guattari 2000, 68; Nielsen 2014).


In drawing on classic psychedelic substances and experiences as a case in point, this article has argued that the United States’ war on drugs can be understood as both a colonial and biopolitical enterprise that intervenes in human biology and cognition through the regulation of psychoactive substances. Given the intimate relationship obtained between psychoactive drugs and human consciousness, the war on drugs, like countless colonial projects before it, has historically denied certain dimensions of human experience to the population along with theepistemological, therapeutic, and affectual potentialities they confer. Through the management of the psychoactive plants, fungi, and substances that the population can consume, the war on drugs reinforces a normalization of consciousness that negates thevalue and veracity of alternate forms of consciousness. By denying other possible ways of knowing, being, and relating in the world that are provoked by certain psychoactive substances, the war on drugs makes each of us “at once the beneficiaries and the victims of our culture’s particular selection” (Tart 1983, 4). The biopolitics of consciousness enacted through the war on drugs becomes more tangible when one examines classic psychedelic substances insofar as they have been banned in the United States since 1970, if not earlier in some cases. Despite the governmental discourse which undergirds the illegalization of psychedelics by positing that they are highly dangerous and addictive substances with no known medical value or application, there is now an insurmountable array of evidence that characterizes psychedelic drugs and their effects in the opposite manner while highlighting their prosocial and transpersonal effects.

Psychedelic substances and experiences do not come without significant caveats of their own, however, insofar as each event of drug consumption affects “different people in different ways, depending in a large part on one’s intention and the setting in which they are taken” (Lattin 2017, 9). As such, each psychedelic experience should beunderstood in its own unique context as an exclusive assemblage that yields potentialities relative to each individual’s lifeworld (Malins 2004). While their neuropharmacological properties do facilitate alternate patterns of information processing and establish new relationships and forms of communication within the brain, this does not guarantee that psychedelic drugs will necessarily deterritorialize rigid thought patterns or lead to new philosophical precepts. The person, the phenomenology of their experience, and the meaning they make from it all play a key role in how psychedelics affect a person. Therefore, the intention, expectation, environment in which they are consumed, and the purposes to which classic psychedelics are put are all central to understanding how they can help to decolonize consciousness, for “it isn’t the drug that creates the experience; it’s the drug that opens the doors to what is already resident inside the person” (Shulgin 1997, 191). By bringing psychedelic experiences to the subject of decolonization then, it must be clear that psychedelic drugs have no inherent decolonizing affect since they may lend themselves to any number of purposes (Price 2007; Passie and Benzenhöfer 2018).

Notwithstanding the caveats that accompany psychedelic drugs and experiences, decolonial theorists have turned attention to the fact that multiple ways of knowing and being have been eradicated by coloniality and its accompanying “epistemological imperialism” (Tuathail 1996, 76). The epistemicide thatcoincides with the coloniality of power has not only historically subjugated other ways of knowing and being for millennia, but it also rejects the epistemic dimensions and transformative effects of psychedelic experiences as a contemporary casualty of the war on drugs. By denying the population access to psychedelic states of consciousness, while also devaluing the experiences that classic psychedelics provoke, the war on drugs mobilizes both disciplinary and biopolitical mechanisms which delimit the exploration of other ways of knowing, relating, and experiencing oneself, others, and the world. By acknowledging the cultural relativity of drug use and pharmacopeias across human societies, it becomes clear that the drugs which are retained and dispelled within contemporary US society tend to reflect the dominant philosophical underpinnings and political motives of its “intellectuals of statecraft” (Tuathail 1996, 14). Now that contemporary research is beginning to suggest that psychedelic experiences can lead to increases in nature-relatedness (Lyons and Carhart-Harris 2018; Kettner et al. 2019), enhancements in one’s capacity for empathy and openness (Pokorny et al. 2017; MacLean, Johnson, and Griffiths 2011), and even a renewed sense of connectedness with oneself, with others, and the world at large (Carhart-Harris et al. 2018), it appears that their suppression has helped to reinforce a colonial hegemony on epistemology, consciousness, experience, and social relations.

Furthermore, insofar as psychedelic substances facilitate anarchic brain states wherein one’s beliefs, and therefore one’s concretized conceptual heritage, are relaxed and can be revised (Carhart-Harris and Friston 2019), psychedelic experiences point to one possible path of challenging patriarchal capitalism, its philosophical underpinnings, and the forms of social relations it spawns. For if the experiences of boundary dissolution that psychedelic drugs tend to confer can lead to an expanded and interconnected sense of self, and this new conception of self in turn challenges both liberal understandings of the subject along with Eurocentric forms of philosophy which bifurcate and therefore alienate us from nature, then psychedelics may be considered as potential anarchic agents that can help decolonize the behavioral, perceptual, and conceptual heritages that have emanated from the coloniality of power (Falcon 2020). Since alternate states of consciousness play a role in shaping a community’s sense of place, and therefore may reinforce either aninterdependent, holistic, and sacred understanding of one’s landscape or a fragmented, individualistic, and analytic sense of place and self, psychedelic experiences may provide a means of ameliorating contemporary human-environment relations as well (Laughlin 2013). However, insofar as “many of us [I include myself] continue to act in ways that are dyed in the colors of colonial power” (Gregory 2004, XV), this may be because we have failed to liberate consciousness itself from the grips of oppression. But since there can be “no social justice without cognitive justice” (Santos 2018, 6), it is imperative to explore alternative ways of knowing, being, and relating to one another and the world, and psychedelic experiences provide a starting point as tool that can, in certain respects, assist in decolonizing consciousness.

Settler Rural Imaginaries of MichFest

By Jacklyn Weier


Thinking through scholarship at the intersections of anarcha-feminism, settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy, this paper uses the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MichFest) as a case study to examine how settler rural imaginaries are mobilized to reifysettler and cis hierarchies. The two imaginaries of interest –“safety in the woods” and “Nature is [cis] female” –rely on settler legacies: the first is derived from the emptiness created by settler state violence and Indigenous displacement, and the second is a reproduction of settler sexuality. To understand how these imaginaries surfaced at MichFest, I analyze online media created around the time of MichFest’s closing. Given the blame of MichFest’s closing was often placed on the issue of trans-exclusion, blog posts and opinion pieces around this time serve as a small sample of the trans-exclusionary rhetoric found at MichFest that reproduced these imaginaries. Most of the texts address concerns about trans-inclusion leading to sexual assault, creatingan implicit connection between women’s fears and cis fears. The discourse around this time reproduced the wilderness of MichFest as a cis women’s landscape, constructing the land as a cis woman. In using these two imaginaries, women at MichFest are producing a cis women’s landscape that relies on the exclusion of both Indigenous and trans people, reproducing settler and cis dominance.

Keywords: Settler Colonialism; Transphobia; Anarchism; Rural Imaginaries; MichFest


When I was accepted as part of the “Anarchist Geographies and Epistemologies of the State” paper session at the 2019 AAG in Washington D.C., I was excited to begin a journey into the nexus between the power and authority of the state and womyn’s separatism in the U.S. Following lines of what has been called post-anarchist thought (Call 2002, Clough and Blumberg 2012, May 1994, Newman 2011) and anarcha-feminism (The Perspectives Editorial Collective 2016), I demonstrated the interconnections between the mechanisms of the state, legacies of settler colonialism, and how separatists imagined rurality. In particular, I showed how the settler rural imaginary “safety in the woods” was used at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MichFest), the case study I was working with. MichFest was an annual women’s musical festival in the U.S. that ended in 2015 amid controversy concerning its ‘womyn-born-womyn’ (WBW) policy that excluded trans women from the festival. After presenting, I learned from my fellow presenters and audience members that any inquiry into MichFest required an understanding of transphobia, given how tightly woven the two are in the popular understanding of separatism and women-only spaces. Curious to see where settler rural imaginaries met with the infamous WBW policy of MichFest, I set out to write this paper.

What I discovered was that the connections between womyn’s separatism, settler colonialism, and transphobia were complex. However, it became apparent that what bound them together were two settler rural imaginaries: “safety in the woods,” and “Nature is [cis] female”. As I aim to show in this paper, both of these imaginaries were mobilized at MichFest for various purposes, but specifically as justifications for the exclusion of trans women from the festival. Both imaginaries rely on settler legacies: the former on the mass removal of Indigenous groups from lands across North America (Cronon 1995), and the latter on the heteropatriarchal formations of settler sexuality that legitimize the policing and disciplining of bodies that do not adhere to binary gender/sex (Morgensen 2010, 2011; TallBear 2018). Working with these ideas led to various other connections and insights, but mostly a more nuanced understanding of the settler state’s reach in everyday geographies (imaginedand real), the relevance of trans theory to feminist geography, and the usefulness of anarcha-feminist thought in guiding such research.

The goal of this paper is to contextualize and critique two settler rural imaginaries, “safety in the woods” and “Nature is [cis] female,” as they were used to justify trans-exclusion at MichFest. To accomplish this goal, this paper takes two directions. First, this paper traces the role of state violence in the creation of a “safety in the woods” rural imaginary, especially concerning settler colonialism and Indigenous displacement/genocide. I also demonstrate the role of capitalist notions of private property, as well as the way “safety in the woods” is used by particular strains of U.S. feminism. Second, I turn to the iconic WBW policy of MichFest that provoked transphobic discourse across social media. I connect rhetoric about fear of sexual assault produced by such discussions to the “Nature is [cis] female” settler rural imaginary, and further explore this imagining of land through the lenses of cis women’s landscapes and settler sexuality. Throughout, I make use of anarcha-feminism’s critiques of state and interpersonal power, domination, and exclusion.

Before beginning, I would like to address the limited scope of this paper. While a diverse array of women participated in MichFest, this paper looks explicitly to the underlying settler colonialist workings of geographical/environmental imaginaries from the perspective of white settlers. Lesbian separatism, the ideology most influential in the production of women-only music festivals like MichFest in the U.S., has been rightfully critiqued as a white lesbian ideology given its often potent refusal to engage with women of color’s desire for solidarity with men of color, and overall dismissal of other axes of subjectivity as important points of oppression in women of color’s lives (Collins 1990, Combahee River Collective 1978, Herring 2007, Koyama 2006). This paper is meant to understand and critique the working of hierarchies as they appear in geographical imaginaries, and furthermore how geographical imaginaries are mobilized to justify exclusion. This is not meant to universally criticize women-only music festivals still successfully existing while allowing trans women’sparticipation, nor the other important women-only spaces spurred by separatism, though more work is needed on these spaces. Further, this study is an explicit examination of the U.S. settler state and the rural imaginaries produced therein. This analysis of rurality and settler colonialism is not immediately transferable to other nation-state contexts nor other settler states.

Anarcha Geography, Settler Colonialism, and Heteropatriarchy

According to Mott, “Anarcha-feminism brings together anarchism, rooted in anticapitalism, antistatism, and horizontal approaches to social organization, with feminism’s emphasis on the significance of intersectional difference in shaping everyday relations of power” (2018, 426). It is also often associated with feminist workthat interrogates the state as an institution that works to perpetuate patriarchy and intersecting systems of oppression (Shannon and Rogue 2009), and oftentimes includes anarchist political strategies such as prefigurative politics (The Perspectives Editorial Collective 2016). In this regard, plenty of geographers have engaged in anarcha-feminist work while not explicitly claiming an anarcha-feminist perspective (Mott 2018). This includes work on spaces and social movements that are autonomous and leaderless (Gibson-Graham 2006, Jarvis 2013), using anarchist theory with queer or feminist theory (Merla-Watson 2012, Rouhani 2012), or proposing decolonizing the discipline through a critique of state power and interlocking oppression (Holmes and Hunt 2014). Like some anarchist geographers (Chattopadhyay 2019, Ince 2009, Mott 2018), I believe the potential for anarcha geography has yet to be fully embraced by the discipline, specifically as a frame of analysis. This paper is guided by anarcha geography in a few ways, but primarily as a lens that prioritizes an understanding how state and interpersonal hierarchies and violence must be interconnected, and differentially experienced, through space and place. Additionally, it uses anarcha-feminism as a guide for understanding the complex relationships between settler colonialism, the state, and heteropatriarchy, especially as these hierarchies impact both Indigenous and trans people. In the future, I hope geographers can investigate the implications for an anarchxgeography that could maybe recognize the inherent fluidity and amorphous character of these contested relationships and hierarchies that this paper is unable to explore.

The hierarchies I would like to point out in this paper are those that normalize and perpetuate settler and cis privileges -being settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy -as well as the dominance of the state as a crucial institution in the production of the “safety in the woods” imaginary. Geographic work on contemporarymanifestations of settler colonialism (Bonds and Inwood 2015; de Leeuw 2016; Hugill 2017; Pulido 2018; Radcliffe 2017, 2015), Indigeneity (e.g., Coombes, Johnson, and Howitt 2012; Radcliffe 2015), and decolonizing geography (e.g, Barker and Pickerill 2012, de Leeuw and Hunt 2018, Holmes and Hunt 2014) has been especially prolific in making connections between settler colonialism and present configurations of power in the settler state (see especially Tomiak (2017)). Anarchist connections to decolonization have also been particularly fruitful (Barker and Pickerill 2012, Lagalisse 2011). While this research has pointed to the tensions between settler anarchists and Indigenous activists, there have also been prolific collaborations between groups. This includes Barker and Pickerill’s (2012) suggestion that conceptions of space and place are particularly important when engaging in dialogue between anarchists and decolonization initiatives. Specifically, they highlight the importance of understanding Indigenous conceptions of land in order to better understand settler society. Like Higgins (2019), who uses whiteness studies as a guide to understanding British migrants’ prejudice towards Indigenous Maori New Zealanders, my contribution to the anti-colonial work in geography critiquing settler colonialism will be accomplished by looking specifically at settlers’ spatial imaginaries. By exploring these conceptions, geographers can begin to see the underlying white supremacist and settler colonialist attitudes that continue to shape interactions between people, space, and land (Bonds and Inwood 2015).

Especially important in this paper is the relationship between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy. While geographers like de Leeuw (2016) have pointed to the way conceptions of gender and patriarchy create unequal positions of power in settler society, I turn to Morgensen (2010, 2011) and TallBear (2018) to further think about settler sexuality. According to Morgensen (2010), settler sexuality refers to “a white national heteronormativity that regulates Indigenous sexuality and gender by supplanting them with the sexual modernity of sexual subjects” (106). Similarly, TallBear writes “Settler sexuality—that gives us this hetero-and increasingly homonormative compulsory monogamy society and relationship escalator intimately tied to settler-colonial ownership of property and Indigenous dispossession—is a structure” (2018, emphasis original). Though Morgensenfocuses primarily on the ways Indigenous peoples considered sexually deviant were policed and assimilated, settler sexuality is hegemonic and expected of settler subjects as well. He further writes that “queer movements can naturalize settlement and assume a homonormative and national form that may be read specifically as settler homonationalism” (2010, 106) and can make “queer subjects as agents of violence of the settler state” (107). Like heterosexual settlers, queer settlers can and do construct ideologies around what constitutes “nature” as well as “natural” sexuality, sex, and gender alignments –being settler sexuality determined by biological essentialism. By reproducing settler sexuality and settler claims to land –both of which have been historically and contemporarily undergone by the state –queer subjects can act on behalf of settler state interests. I will be applying this concept in this paper to think about the way MichFest’s lesbian separatists constructed their own ideas of “natural” yet settler gender and sex and enforced this via the WBW policy. The interworking between hierarchies of settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy as they come together in settler sexuality, as well as how people become agents of the settler state in everyday interactions, have yet to be afforded much critical attention in geography.

The context for discussions of settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy is MichFest and the implementation of the transphobic WBW policy. It is therefore necessary to further extrapolate the connections between heteropatriarchy and biological essentialism as they apply to transphobia. For this, I draw upon various trans theorists from other disciplines and backgrounds (Bettcher 2007, Connell 2012, Jacques 2014, Jaffe 2018, Koyama 2006, Stone 1992), as well as geographers working with trans theory and populations (Doan 2010, Hines 2010, Jenzen 2017, Lewis 2017, Nash 2010, Rosenberg and Oswin 2015). Trans theorists have continuously worked to demonstrate the myth of a natural connectionbetween sexuality, sex, or gender (Connell 2012, Stone 1992) and critique transphobic exclusion from various branches of feminism (e.g., Koyama 2006, Lewis 2017), while trans geography scholars have largely focused on disrupting the gender binary (Rosenberg and Oswin 2015). Some scholars, like Koyama (2006) and Lewis (2017), have specifically turned a critical eye to MichFest in regard to its politics. Both write about the ideologies perpetuated by specific branches of feminism (such as lesbian separatists, ‘radfems,’ or transphobes) that recognize patriarchy as the most important or primary hierarchy in peoples’ lives, while simultaneously reproducing biological essentialist ideologies concerning proper categories of binary gender and sex. In this paper, as I argue these ideologies are present in the rural imaginaries of MichFest participants, I draw from trans theorists’ work to discern the transphobic prejudices that appear in discourses of trans-exclusion.

The literature I have outlined above do coalesce in interesting and productive ways. For example, trans theorists have made connections between state domination, trans oppression, and binary sex and gender, or settler sexuality. The state in many cases becomes the gatekeeper of binary sex and gender, and therefore reinforces settler sexuality; as of writing, plenty state-level governments in the U.S. refuse to recognize changes of gender, as well as agender or non-binary gender identities on birth certificates or other official documents (Beauchamp 2009, Herman 2015, Spade 2003). Tranarchism, according to Herman (2015), has the potential to subvert state power by undermining the state surveillance of gender non-conforming bodies –to resist the heteropatriarchal colonial construct of binary gender and sex that is reinforced by the state. This is just one example of the ways these ideas intersect and create new meanings. For this paper, thinking through the connections between trans embodiment and state power comes through in the ways that the “queer settlers” of MichFest become agents of the settler state by policing and excluding gender deviance, and by doing so actively reproduce notions of settler sexuality.

Finally, these connections between settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy are applicable to rural imaginaries. The fixation on rural areas by lesbian and womyn separatists specifically is an area readily explored (e.g., Bell and Valentine 1995, Herring, 2007, Sandilands 2002, Valentine 1997). Bell andValentine (1995) explain that one reason for the separatist movement to rural communes was part of the embraced binary between civilization/man and nature/woman. Going back to ‘mother earth,’ many women believe that ‘nature’ is more feminist and woman-friendly than man-made cities (see also Browne 2011, Lee 1990, Rose 1993, Valentine 1997). The proliferation of lesbian communes, ranches, farms, and rural festivals in the 1970s was part of an ideology that “a return to nature, a break from the nuclear family, and freedom from men could all best be realised on farms and ranches” (Bell and Valentine 1995, 118).

As a gathering that took place for decades in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, an area currently contested by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (“Little River Band of Ottawa Indians” n.d.) and Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA n.d.), MichFest was less in the vein of farming lesbian back-to-the-landers and more like other separatist LGBT groups that specifically sought out ‘wilderness’ (see Morgensen (2011) for information about the Radical Faeries). This attention to wilderness, which I return to in the analysis, may be best explained by the concept of rural idylls and what Bell (2006) calls wildscapes. Wildscapes are a kind of rural idyll –that is, a kind of idealized geographic imaginary of rural space –that can be summarized as “pre-cultural, pre-human, untamed nature –the wilderness” (Bell 2006, 150). Coming from a U.K. context, Bell emphasizes the romanticization of wilderness on the part of bourgeoise urban dwellers and tourists. In the context of the U.S. settler society, as I aim to demonstrate below, wilderness and wildscape imaginaries are laden with historical violence and settler authorization of land.

Taking these ideas together, this paper draws upon research critiquing and connecting the state, settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy to understand the formation and mobilization of two prominent rural imaginaries: “Safety in the woods” and “Nature is [cis] female”. These two imaginaries, as I argue below, were used by MichFest attendees to justify transphobic biological essentialism and reinforce ideologies of settler colonialism and settler sexuality. I proceed this review with a brief background of MichFest. I then outline the historical context of “safety in the woods” in the United States as it stems from Indigenous displacement and genocide. I also use previous researchers’ work on MichFest to uncover the use of “safety in the woods” by MichFest attendees. Following, I focus on the “Nature is [cis] female” settler rural imaginary and how it conceptualizes a cis woman’s landscape through the lens of settler sexuality.


The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, or MichFest, was held annually in the Huron-Manistee Forest of western Michigan from 1976 to 2015. It was one of the largest and longest-lasting women-only music festivals in the U.S. –at its height, the festival would draw in upwards of 10,000 women. Its legacy has had a lasting impact on the imaginaries of womyn’s separatism in mainstream media, and its notorious womyn-born-womyn (WBW) policy often plays a substantial role in many people’s condemnation or appreciation of the annual event. In 2006, MichFest founder and landowner Lisa Vogel defined the WBW policy as only allowing “womyn who were born as and have lived their entire life experience as womyn” (Browne 2009, 548). The refusal to allow trans attendees led to the creation of Camp Trans, a counter protest that began in 1994 and protested MichFest until its closing (Browne 2009). The group was initiated after a trans woman was evicted from MichFest and had her ticket refunded.

Camp Trans occurred annually at the same time as MichFest on nearby public camping grounds. Camp Trans had been a source of great controversy, both with outside opponents and internal tensions (Koyama 2006). Growing debate after Vogel’s 2006 statement, which reinforced and further justified the WBW policy, led to multiple organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (2014) to criticize and boycott the festival as long as it maintained the policy.

Vogel, who was the owner of the private property where MichFest was held, decided to end MichFest permanently in 2015, with many attendees and supporters in the aftermath accusing transpeople and Camp Trans for its demise. According to an op-ed piece in Advocateby Anderson-Minshall (2015) and Lewis’ (2017) piece in Salvage, the festival was in economic decline compared to other women’s festivals with trans-inclusive policies, such as the Ohio Lesbian Festival. As Lewis (2017) writes, “While Camp Trans is a convenient scapegoat, the reasons for Michfest closing were in fact manifold, including financial difficulty and declining attendance.” With this context in mind, this paper examines the “safety in the woods” imaginary as a necessary precursor for lesbian separatism’s rural inclinations, and further examines this imaginary alongside “Nature as [cis] female” to understand the rhetoric produced in the wake of MichFest’s closing.

Safety in the Woods: The Formation of Settler Rural Imaginaries

The myth of the wilderness as ‘virgin’ uninhabited land had always been especially cruel when seen from the perspective of the [Indigenous groups] who had once called that land home. Now they were forced to move elsewhere, with the result that tourists could safely enjoy the illusion that they were seeing their nation in its pristine, original state, in the new morning of God’s own creation. –William Cronon 1995, 77

Popular with lesbian separatists,and apparently glampers (Boscoboinik and Bourquard 2012), the “safety in the woods” wildscape imaginary has a long history in the U.S. During the eighteenth century, wilderness did not conjure images of safety and comfort. Cronon’s (1995) work on wilderness looks to American and European wildscape imaginaries as they were originally influenced by Christian doctrine. He writes that “to be wilderness then was to be ‘deserted,’ ‘savage,’ ‘desolate,’ ‘barren’ –in short, a ‘waste,’ the word’s nearest synonym” (8). Settler interpretations of land during the beginnings of colonization in the U.S. were centered on concepts of waste and emptiness. As the ideology of terra nullius, literally empty land, was a driving factor for dispossession and genocide in Australia (Howitt 2019, Pateman and Mills 2007), the idea similarly had an impact on U.S. settler colonial tactics (see Safransky (2014) for how ‘emptiness’ is still mobilized in U.S. urban settings). Though settlers created treaties with North American Indigenousnations, the idea that Indigenous groups were using land ineffectively and inadequately created an assumption about the availability of land and the emptiness of land insofar that it lacked “civilized peoples” (Harris 1993, Harris 2004, Seawright 2014). During this time, “safety” was hardly in the purview of optional adjectives for wilderness. As Cronon (1995) elaborates, fear of wilderness, and the people within it, was paramount in the beginning construction of a settler-colonial U.S. wildscape imaginary.

The association of fear with wilderness changes with the displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples by the U.S. settler state. I argue that state-sanctioned violent processes led to an opening that allows for safety to be associated with wilderness, without which “safety in the woods” as it is used today may not be possible. As displacement and genocide occurred over hundreds of years, the culmination of the American Indian Wars became a milestone where wilderness began to be constructed as empty and safe (Cronon 1995). This is only because the end of these conflicts marked the final mass movements of Indigenous groups onto reservations. “Once [Native Americans were] set aside within the fixed and carefully policed boundaries of the modern bureaucratic state, the wilderness lost its savage image and became safe: a place more of reverie than of revulsion or fear” (Cronon 1995, 15). Therefore, while “safety in the woods” seems like an innocuous rural imaginary -as Glenn (2015) writes: “settler colonialism obscures the conditions of its own production” (59) -the concept of safety is predicated upon the sense of emptiness produced by settler state colonial processes of displacement and genocide. And, as Veracini (2010) explains about the work settler colonial ideology does, it allows the assumption that “the settler enters a ‘new, empty land to start a new life;’ indigenous people naturally or inevitably ‘vanish;’ it is not settlers that displace them” (14). Empty, safe rurality is based on settler epistemology –specifically a settler way of knowing land –that insidiously plants itself within the taken for granted assumptions of U.S. rural landscapes.

The replacement of fear with safety in the wildscape imaginary was only afforded to specific privilegedpopulations. White settlers, and especially those from cities (Cronon 1995), were the ones who produced this association. As Finney (2014) writes, African Americans in the U.S. continue to have wildscape imaginaries of fear given the historical and contemporary white supremacist violence associated with wilderness and rurality. The “safety in the woods” settler rural imaginary was effectively born out of state and white settler violence and can be mobilized to justify continued exclusion and violence.

When shifting the analysis to the scale of the forest, and the 650 acres of land owned by Vogel and used for MichFest purposes, it too has a history of use and formation that is closely linked to the settler state as well as capitalist processes. The 1836 Treaty of Washington, also called in official documents the Treaty with the Ottawa ect., or the Ottawa-Chippewa Treaty, was between the United States and representatives of the Ottawa and Chippewa nations (CORA 2018). This treaty detailed the conceding of over 13 million acres of modern-day Michigan, including what now makes up the Manistee National Forest, to the federal government. The national forest where MichFest was located was created through state intervention during the Great Depression. The role of the state in the production of the Manistee woods is briefly summarized by the USDA website on “History and Culture,” which claims that the Forest Service purchased land during the Great Depression to help local farmers and landowners. The land purchases during this time were broken up, with some farmers holding on to adjacent productive lands and selling to the state unproductive land. This resulted in the Huron-Manistee National Forest being fragmented with pockets of private property, leaving opportunity for people like Vogel to be a part of the forest while still claiming private ownership.

Notions of property in the settler state as they are continuously reproduced in contemporary time have been previously addressed by geographers (e.g., Blatman-Thomas and Porter 2018, Safransky 2014, Tomiak 2017). It is no secret that ideologies around capitalist private property were key in the execution of Indigenous displacement (e.g., Blatman-Thomas and Porter 2018, Harris 2004, Park 2016). As Harris (1993) argues, only white forms of possession and ownership were recognized and legitimated by law. Indigenous claims to land were therefore unrecognizable, as U.S. court rulings demonstrated that whiteness was a “prerequisite to the exercise of enforceable property rights” (Harris 1993, 1724). Important to this analysis, capitalist private property relations are premised on the right to exclude (Harris 1993). The enacting of those rights will be the major focus of the following section.

In addition to capitalist claims to land, the formation of national parks is part of the movement after the final American Indian Wars to preserve areas of “pristine” uninhabited wilderness (Cronon 1995). It is directly tied to both the state’s deliberate clearing of wilderness and rural spaces via forced Indigenous displacement and dispossession, and the state’s intervention with presumably uninhabited land that was the direct result of displacement. A critical piece of national parks and forests are the legacies of settler colonial practices and enactments of white supremacy on the landscape. These can be found in the Manistee National Forest where MichFest was held. Additionally, state-sanctioned practices of private ownership over settled land (Harris 2004) can also be found in the landscape, in the breaking up of public and private over an area previously subjected to forced displacement.

Given the historical context of settler and white violence that produced “safety in the woods,” it is interesting to see how it has come to be used bylesbian separatists. Plenty of scholars on separatism have explored the connections between safety and rurality for lesbians (Berlant and Freeman 1992, Cheney 1985, Herring 2007, Sandilands 2002, Valentine 1997). The way this imaginary surfaces at MichFest, however, further points to the way wilderness and wildscapes specifically are positioned in the separatist rural imaginary. To demonstrate this relationship, I draw from Browne’s (2011) qualitative questionnaires. In her research, Browne looks to the re-imagining of rural idylls by lesbian separatists as subversive. Rural imaginaries are often constructed through hegemonic interpretations of masculinity and heterosexuality (Little 2002, 2007; Little and Austin 1996), and lesbian separatists reclaiming rurality challenges these dominant discourses. For example, Browne (2011) finds that not only is MichFest “renowned as a safe rural space for lesbians, and lesbian sexuality,” (17) but that:

The place of ‘wilderness’ in the ‘Midwest’ in participant’s accounts not only points to the reworking of potentially hostile ruralities, they also place Michfest positively within rural spaces. Not only does this give meaning to ‘the land’ and the collective of womyn therein, it also recreates rural images that are passed through (feminist) generations, creating and being created by traditions and informed by literature, the media and storytelling. (Browne 2011, 17).

Browne continues with different utopic visions produced my MichFest attendees that further subvert the heteropatriarchal construction of wilderness, such as respondents describing MichFest as “5000 naked women in the woods” (2011, 17). These responses provide an example of how “safety in the woods” becomes filtered through specific lines of U.S. separatist feminism.

On its own, the “safety in the woods” imaginary is not inherently negative. As Browne (2011) demonstrates, this reclamation of wilderness is in many ways liberatory for lesbian MichFest attendees. It is also worth saying that presumptions about “safety in the woods” should be thought of as a potential goal especially for populations that are systemically excluded from participating in rural life (Finney 2014, Leslie 2017, Wypler 2019). However, as I further explore below, the construction of a safetythat seeks to be exclusivemakes for a reproduction of settler/cis hierarchies. When taken with its settler state context, exclusive claims to wilderness by queer settlers should be scrutinized because queers can equally contribute to the naturalization of settlement (Morgensen 2010), settler-capitalist claims to land are premised on the right to exclude (Harris 1993), and settler sexuality relies in part on settler conceptions of property ownership and Indigenous dispossession (TallBear 2018).

“Nature is[Cis] Female”: Cis Fear and Settler Sexuality

Plenty of feminist scholars, including geographers (e.g., Rose 1993), have critiqued the connections between women and Nature as a reinforcement of binary gender, as well as the rationale for thinking of women as inherently nurturing, passive, and needing control. Despite these critiques, the “Nature is female” environmental imaginary is one that has been mobilized by various groups, whether they be environmentalists, ecofeminists, or Exxon mobile (Seager 1994). As mentioned in the literature review, womyn and lesbian separatists also used the connections between Nature and women to legitimize their ideology’s reappraisal of rurality (Browne 2011, Lee 1990, Valentine 1997). In this regard, MichFest is no different, with attendees making positive connections between themselves, the woods, and the land (Browne 2011). What attendees also did with this imaginary, however, was use it to justify trans-exclusion at the festival.

Though others have explored how the WBW policy at MichFest reified a biological essentialist understanding of gender and sex (Koyama 2006, Lewis 2017, Luis 2018), this has yet to be understood within a geographical context. I argue that both “safety in the woods” and “Nature is [cis] female” settler rural imaginaries emerged in transphobic discourse surrounding support for the WBW policy, especially around the time of MichFest’s closing. In making this argument, I draw upon Luis’ (2018) description of a women’s landscape, which encapsulates separatists’ gendering and sexing of landscape through essentialist characteristics, and well as trans theorists’ work on critiquing transphobia and biological essentialism. Even though this paper is expressly interested in the mobilization of settler rural imaginaries for the purposes of maintaining settler and cis hierarchies, it should be noted that plenty of MichFest attendees were trans-allies and supported the removal of the WBW policy (Browne 2009, McConnell et al. 2016a, McConnell et al. 2016b).

Studying contemporary lesbian womyn’s lands in the U.S., Luis (2018) finds that women living in rural lesbian communities actively remake the landscape as female, referring to environmental features such as mountains, plants, animals, and trees as “she”. The making of the women’s landscape further imbues the landscape with agency and emotion, transforming the landscape discursively. Luis’ work captures a mode of lesbian separatist thought that takes form geographically –the relationship between a women’s landscape and Nature being interpreted as female is solidified by the active reworking of wilderness and rurality as feminine, womanly, and literally a woman. MichFest, oftentimes referred to as “the Land” by attendees, is simultaneously constructed as a safe space in the woods via the “safety in the woods” imaginary, and as a women’s landscape via the “Nature is [cis] female” imaginary. To show how these two settler rural imaginaries are mobilized to further reproduce settler and cis dominance, I turn to social media posts and online news articles publicly available online, as well as previous scholarly research. I analyze three different reactions to trans-in/exclusion at MichFest: (1) fear that the inclusion of trans women will lead to sexual assault, (2) fear that trans women’s “male bodies” will trigger cis women who have previously experienced sexual assault, and (3) fear that the inclusion of trans women, and in general trans advocacy work, will lead to an extermination of a cis lesbian class. Each of these three points arise from discussions of allowing trans women on the Land and into a women’s landscape, and the supposed threat they pose to MichFest attendees’ safety in the woods.

Much of the discourse in support of the WBW policy at MichFest revolves around the fear of sexual assault. As feminist geographers have shown (Pain 1997a, 1997b, 2001, 2009; Pain and Smith 2008; Valentine 1989), cis women have high perceptions of fear in relationship to the possibility of male-perpetrated sexual violence in public space. This fear, however, becomes misdirected at trans women in two ways. First, in a metaphorical way, where trans women are accused of “raping” the women’s landscape. Second, in a literal way, where the inclusion of trans attendees creates a gateway forpredatory cis men who will supposedly pretend to be trans to be allowed admittance. The first piece of evidence for these discourses comes from Tobi Hill-Meyer, a trans producer and actress involved in Camp Trans. She is cited throughout media and opinionpieces to having written the following post on her blog:

When I attended [MichFest] in 2011, I made it a point to talk with many people about the trans exclusion. The topic of sexual assault often came up. Sometimes trans women’s attendance was likened toa “rape” of the festival. Sometimes trans women’s existence was called a “rape” of women’s bodies (a really weird, logic, I know. Apparently trans women ourselves are seen as men, but our bodies are seen as women’s bodies, and so by possessing a woman’s body it is a form of rape). But sometimes it was not rape as a metaphor, but a fear of actual sexual assault. More than once I was told that someone feared allowing trans women to attend would mean that cis men perpetrators could pretend to be trans women to get on the land and rape the children. All of this was predicated on the idea that a woman only space is automatically a space free from sexual violence. (Hill-Meyer 2015).

Hill-Meyer (2015) goes on to say that this assumption is untrue, given that there have been reports of sexual assault at MichFest as perpetrated by cis women. In the first half of the post, one can see that trans-inclusion is likened to “rape of the festival” (2015). Approaching MichFest as a women’s landscape, the accusation is symbolic of how attendees imagine the festival. Like Luis (2018) found on women’s lands, the wilderness landscape itself is personified as a cis woman, capable of being assaulted. In the second instance, trans women become symbolic of the acceptance of cis men to the festival. While the people Hill-Meyer (2015) spoke to did not claim that trans women themselves will be assaulting anyone, trans women nevertheless become at fault for the possible assault of children. The connection between accepting trans women and accepting cis men into the safe space is a cis fear repeatedly raised in contemporary time (Jaffe 2018). Lewis (2017) writes that “[radfems] look at us and they see men, contamination by men, rape” — this association has a long-standing history in particular transphobic circles.

As Valentine (1989) and others have shown, fear of assault is one of the greatest driving fears of women in public space. By taking this women’s fear, and suggesting that it justifies trans-exclusion, the cis women who make these claims are transforming women’s fear into cis fear. The use of children in this example, too, is reminiscent of how the safety of children was paramount when discussing both the possibility of gay marriage and trans-inclusion in bathrooms (Beauchamp 2019, Rubin 2011). Using the safety of children against trans women at MichFest is a (re)production of the heteronormative attitude towards children’s sexuality and their vulnerability to gender-and sexuality-deviant bodies.

While the testimony from Hill-Meyer (2015) is telling of the way women’s landscapes come to be gendered and the way that fear of sexual assault becomes part of transphobic rhetoric, there has been discourse that frames trans women as violent men themselves. Williams (2015), a trans blogger, writes that in 1999 a group of Lesbian Avengers -including a 16-year-old trans girl -went to the festival and were subsequently attacked by a mob. According to the interview Williams (2015) conducted with the group, the mob at the festival shouted things such as: “Man on the land,” “You’re a rapist,” “You’re raping the land,” and “You’re destroying womanhood.” Someone also reportedly threatened the 16-year-old with a knife. The statement “you’re raping the land,” is, again, symbolic of Luis’ (2018) finding that separatists view women’s landscapes as beings capable of emotion, agency, and embodiment. In this case, the agency of the Land is supposedly robbed by the admittance of a trans attendee. The use of “Nature is [cis] female” in the production of a women’s landscape is mobilized to justify exclusion on the Land for the sake of cis women’s safety.

Both Hill-Meyer (2015) and Williams (2015) identify discourses and actions that reify trans women as perpetrators of sexual assault and cis women as harboring fear of assault. Using cis fear as a justification for transphobia is relatively routine for so-called radfems and other separatists (Jaffe, 2018). As it has been demonstrated by feminist geographers studying fear (e.g., Pain 2001, Valentine 1989), cis women’s fear in place oftenrevolves around the fear of male violence via sexual assault. The fear that MichFest attendees are proclaiming is playing into this well-known phenomenon. By making claims to fears that have been repeatedly legitimized by feminists, MichFest attendees reinforce the importance of women’s landscapes and the exclusionary policies targeting out of place bodies.

Fear of sexual assault is not the only fear present in these discussions. McConnell et al. (2016b) conduct interviews and online surveys with attendees following the 2013 festival; their findings suggest many different approaches to trans-inclusion at MichFest, including unwavering support. One finding, however, is bounded to this discourse of cis women’s fears. They write:

Another common belief expressed by supporters of the WBW intention was that including trans women would threaten the physical and emotional safety cis women experience at the festival. This was frequently connected with a fear of having ‘overt bio-markers of masculinity,’ like penises and male voices, on the land, as they may trigger cis women who are survivors of rape and/or child sexual abuse. (McConnell et al. 2016b, 18, emphasis added).

This finding is representative of the discourses aforementioned. The women’s landscape is symbolic of a safe space in the woods for women who have experienced abuse and assault. Trans women represent a threat to this safety by virtue of having “overt bio-markers of masculinity.” Looking past the problems with assuming trans women have male bodies, and the sex binary being reinforced, one can see cis women’s fear of male violence again being misdirected. In this case, the myth is that trans women, because they may have markers of masculinity, are bringers of male violence. Koyama responds to this kind of discourse:

To suggest that the safety of the Land would be compromised [by trans inclusion] overlooks, perhaps intentionally, ways in which women can act out violence and oppressions against each other. Even the argument that “the presence of a peniswould trigger the women” is flawed because it neglects the fact that white skin is just as much a reminder of violence as a penis. (2006, 8).

The myth that there is inherent violence in body parts periodically resurfaces with questions of trans-inclusion. Recent examples demonstrating this include the notorious bathroom bills (Schilt and Westbrook 2015). This myth rests on a false belief that gender identity (or even personality) is inherently tied to genitalia. Luis (2018), in examining the transphobia that appears on women’s lands and at MichFest, writes that the belief that trans women are men comes from a biological determinist perspective she calls the precultural body. The myth of the precultural body suggests that there is a natural body that exists prior to cultural information. This, in conjunction with myths of “naturally” dichotomous gender and sex that come to be reinforced in space and place (Doan 2010, Stone 1992), make for the heteronormative tenets of settler sexuality. The focus on genitalia,and what it represents to assault survivors, again is an attempt to legitimize cis women’s fears and justify exclusion in a cis women’s landscape.

The two above examples, both of which include biological essentialist rhetoric, demonstrate how settler sexuality becomes projected onto the landscape. In these examples, lesbian and womyn separatists decide what constitutes an appropriate body for the women’s landscape, which happens to fall within the expectations of settler sexuality. As Morgensen (2010, 2011) argues, queer groups can become representatives of the settler state in both their appropriation of Indigenous ideologies and their rejection of gender, sex, or sexuality that fall outside settler sexuality expectations. MichFest attendees, by policing non-cis gender embodiments and by imagining the wilderness as a cis woman, in effect project settler sexuality onto the Land in their “Nature is [cis] female” settler rural imaginary. Settler notions of exclusive access to land for particular bodies, histories of Indigenous dispossession, reinforcements of settler sexuality via transphobia, and legacies of settler state violence all come together in the fearful deployment of “Nature is [cis] female” at MichFest.

Finally, though the issue of trans-ex/inclusion is usually met with the fear of assault, there is another fear that surfaces in the discussion. Cogswell (2015), the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (2014), wrote an opinion piece after the closing of MichFest. She expresses opinionssuch as that cis women deserve a space to recover from misogyny (e.g., Morris 1999), and that closeted trans women attend MichFest all the time (e.g., Callahan 2014). However, Cogswell (2015) takes this one step further. She writes:

Nope, the real obstacles to trans progress are those filthy bigoted dykes at MichFest who should probably all be exterminated. Am I exaggerating? Not much. The Internet is awash with anti-MichFest posts that end with diatribes attacking lesbians as a class, many wishing for our collective demise. (Cogswell 2015).

She also repeats some of the rhetoric analyzed by McConnell et al. (2016) above, saying that, “half the women I know have PTSD from a life of having a cunt and tits in public” (Cogswell 2015) – reifying the issue that cis women are seeking a safe place from trauma. Cogswell also makes comments that MichFest should not be closed down, “unless men have quit raping women this week” (2015). From this opinion piece, one can see the entanglement of the primary fears of cis women. MichFest is again reproduced as a women’s landscape meant to provide cis women with the safety of not being around men who they believe will sexually assault them. The underlying idea, which is not directly addressed by Cogswell (2015), is how trans women somehow disrupt that safety by existing in the landscape.

Cogswell (2015) adds another unique element to the discourse, however. Her above quote makes it seem that trans women’s right to women’s landscapes will lead to the extermination of a lesbian class. The connection is not direct; rather, the concerns over trans women’s inclusion will lead others to advocate for the end of a lesbian class. Cogswell reemphasizes this point by saying that critics of MichFest “encourage other trans people to attack both organizers and participants with a level of rage and hate that we do not see directed toward anything or anybody else” (2015). To unpack this, I turn to Luis’ (2018) interpretation of MichFest transphobia as it relates to how trans women are perceived.Luis (2018) argues that letters written by Vogel show that, first, cis women are framing themselves as victims of trans women’s hate, and second, that cis women believe the “tone” of trans women is harmful to their objectives. Cogswell (2015) participatesin this discourse as well by saying that trans people are “attacking” organizers and attendees, and that there is too much “rage and hate” on the part of trans women who are being excluded from the women’s landscape. It also makes an indirect parallel that suggests that cis women in the women’s landscape do not have this same level of hatred and rage, and that their “tone” is more acceptable. This obviously does not take into consideration Williams’ (2015) interview that detailed how cis women at MichFest threatened a 16-year-old with a weapon.

What Cogswell’s (2015) piece demonstrates, like in the previous examples, is how cis women’s fears are mobilized to justify the exclusion of trans women from the safety of a cis women’s landscape. In this discourse produced by cis women, if trans women are allowed into the safe cis women’s landscape of MichFest, they will bring physical and emotional violence and the downfall of a lesbian class. It is also a reinforcement of settler sexuality as its projected onto rural space. The creation of imaginaries of presumably cis and rapable land relies on settler sexuality for its binary interpretation of gender and sex. It also is dependent upon on settler sexuality and a homonationalism where private property rights to exclude, sometimes through violent means, is done in the name of claiming cis, empty, and safe settled wilderness.

Ultimately, MichFest attendees who use transphobic rhetoric reproduce ideologies of the settler state, and do the work of the settler state, byboth naturalizing settler claims to wilderness that intend to be exclusive and by policing gender embodiments that exist outside the restrictive notions of settler sexuality. Both of these actions have historically been undertaken by the state itself, through displacement, genocide, treaties, and boarding schools (Morgensen 2010). The argument is not necessarily that MichFest participants intend to act on behalf of settler state interests. Rather, when the discourses and actions at the intersection of transphobia, land, and the settler state are evaluated, one sees that MichFest attendees’ actions mirror the work of the settler state.


Inspired by anarcha-feminist thought, this paper began as an experiment to draw connections between settler stateprocesses and womyn’s separatism in the U.S. To this end, I uncovered the legacy of the “safety in the woods” settler rural imaginary produced through the emptiness brought on by Indigenous displacement and genocide by the state around the end of the American Indian Wars. Particular to white settlers, this imaginary continues to be embraced by lesbian and womyn’s separatists who seek to reclaim wilderness. At MichFest, this imaginary comes through in the reworking of the wildscape rural idyll (Browne 2011), as attendees think of wilderness, the woods, and the Land as a safe haven for lesbian sexuality. This safety, however, comes at a cost: the exclusion of both Indigenous and trans people.

In making the case for the exclusion of bodies that do not adhere to core tenets of settler sexuality, the “Nature is [cis] female” settler rural imaginary is mobilized to justify trans-exclusion. With this imaginary, the Land of MichFest became personified as a cis woman, demonstrative of Luis’ (2018) women’s landscape.Attendees used both imaginaries to argue for the need for a safe place in the woods, particularly from sexual assault, and to accuse trans women of harming or assaulting the Land. Both imaginaries are capable of being mobilized for transphobic purposes, specifically to reify cis privileges and hierarchies; at the same time, both imaginaries harness and reproduce settler state legacies of empty/safe land and settler sexuality, while also making use of notions of private property and the right to exclude (Harris 1993). In this way, the hierarchies produced though the interconnections between the settler state, settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy find themselves at MichFest via the medium of settler rural imaginaries.

Stateless Environmentalism: The Criticism of State by Eco-Anarchist Perspectives

By Francisco J. Toro


The State and its governmental institutions have been dignified in the environmentalist mainstream as palliative forces to face and solve the excesses and failures of capitalism and neoliberalism towards a proper environmental management. But this environmental state falls into evident contradictions regards to its formal commitment with environmentalist purposes. In addition, governmental institutions contribute to expand a nihilist attitude in the environmentalist actions of the citizenship. Within the environmentalist strands of anarchism, the matter of State has focused a relevant attention and position. An early green criticism may be found in the nineteenth century anarchists, in which State has no room as a violent and centralized force, and corrupting the goodness of the material, reproductive and spiritual connection of humans with Nature. Most recent eco-anarchist approaches, such as social ecologists, bioregionalists and anarcho-primitivists have analysed how determinant is State as a responsible agent in the global environmental crisis and proposed alternatives to this coercive power. This paper is aiming a) to examine some of the main contributions of the “green” criticism to State from eco-anarchists; and b) to build a consistent and wide critique of the State, helping to promote a non-statist balanced and fair relationship between societies and Nature.

Keywords: Eco-Anarchism, Environmental State, Environmentalism, Bioregionalism, Social Ecology, Anarcho-Primitivism

Introduction: The Environmental State, a Suspicious Legitimation?

The State and governmental institutions have reached a determinant role in the environmental arena. Specific literature and scholars refer to this as a new stage or process of mutation of the former disrespectful and harming statist attitudes towards Nature, bonded to the origin of modern nation-states. This rise of environmental concerns within the national centralized governance is thus named with a variety of expressions such as ‘green state’ (Saward 1998; Dryzek etal.2003; Eckersley 2004; Wilson 2006; Melo-Escrihuela 2008; Huhet al.2018), ‘ecostate’ (Duit 2011; Craig 2020), ‘eco-social state’ (Koch and Fritz 2014; Jakobsson et al. 2018) or using a broader and all-encompassing approach as “environmental state” (Meadowcroft 2014; Duit et al.2016; Gough 2016; Mol 2016; Hatzisavvidou 2019; Hausknost 2020; Machin 2020).

To a certain extent, responses to environmental claims within the public institutions are in proportion to their historical legitimacy, understanding the State as “the most powerful human mechanism for collective action than can compel obedience and redistribute resources” (Duit et al. 2016, 3). Since the emergence of post-war Welfare States mostly in the developed countries, public institutions have assumed the prerogative to intercede in the enhancement of standard for the citizenry, reinforcing the interventionist role of public over particular, corporate, communal and private interests. Thereby, the transition to an environmental state would be a step forward in the consolidation of the Welfare State inasmuch as the challenges that must be elucidated intimately affect to social and collective dimensions of quality of life. In fact, this transformation of the statist paradigm is actually a continuityof the same administrative procedures and organizational model but disguised as green.

Environmental issues demand regulatory methods, such as a normative framework, sanctions and taxes in order to guarantee basic dimensions of welfare which rely on environmental parameters; a sort of measures that coactive and authoritarian polities might implement with quite efficacy. Both developed and developing nation-states have increasingly placed in their administrative bodies a relevant position to the managementof environmental problems, whether it has or not an equivalent influence to other remits, such as economy, public security and finances. Furthermore, the environmental agency has been formed in order to overcome the traditional centralization and thus to face cross-border issues. That is, the ecological crisis has forced to transform the conventional welfare State configuration by unfolding a bureaucracy structure which encompasses a variety of entities in a wide range of scales. In the context of Europe, the EU plays the role of a mega-state or trans-national corpus, commanding main lines of action in strategic fields, distributing funds and incentives for green practices, and elaborating environmental policies with a cascade effect all over member countries and regions. But, in addition, many municipalities and regions, as a result of state decentralization, have been working based on networks in order to accomplish a proper management of water resources, natural protected areas, exchange of urban sustainability experiences or climate change collaborative actions.

A statist spirit has also penetrated the environmental praxis by a deliberately spreading of values and knowledge. The rise of environmental concern within citizenship is, in a great extent, an achievement of educational campaigns promoted by public institutions and resources, the assumed responsibility in determining an official and lawful environmentalist discourse. Likewise, quite a few public funds and budget items have been targeted to stimulate research in scientific advances, with a particular focus on green technological solutions, driving thus the production of an amount of knowledge in favour to strategic areas and aims of public governments. This role of public institutions in the sprawlof environmentalist values, considering its moralistic power over society, is therefore “part of a continuing effort to legitimate state environmental intervention” (Duit et al. 2016, 8).

However, the effectiveness and success of environmental state is equally questioned (Mol 2016) since it is not working as an isolated political entity, but another actor –determinant one–in the complex nexus of globalized market, neoliberal international organisms, cross-national corporations, institutional commitments,NGOs, environmentalist movements, and citizenship. Therefore, the capacity of administrating and applying environmental policies has been constrained and, at the very best, tends to have a palliative and corrective character with very little room for manoeuvre. In addition, nation-states have lost power in their capacity to unilaterally regulate important environmental dues and duties, given for instance the weakness shown under the influence of market institutions. Furthermore, they usually contribute to sponsor and promote private and national projects that inflict severe and non-reversible damages on environment, such as extractivism, hydropower dams, land grabbing and urban sprawl (Gerber 2011; Borras Jr. et al. 2012; Grajales 2013; Wolford et al. 2013;Constantino 2016; Martínez-Alier and Walter 2016). This shows that environmental states do the management of environmental challenges through a double standard and commonly have a counterproductive effect. According to the above scenario, it would be difficult to support the argument that the State is an authorized power in order to face efficiently environmental issues.

Even bearing in mind these obstacles, the legitimized and gained environmental authority of states is far to be rejected. My thesis is indeed based on a theoretical background rather than empirical. There is an extended cliché which echoes in society, political and a significant part of the academic discourse: the belief that liberal state is a synonym or an equivalent to democracy. And given the urgency of solutions for environmental issues, it is assumed that “building on the state government structures that already exist seems to be a more fruitful path to take than any attempt to move beyond or around states in the quest for environmental sustainability” (Eckersley 2004, 91). In sum, the institution of environmental state helped to reinforce the legitimacy of liberal state (Eckersley 2004, 140).

Moreover, there is enough evidence and quite a few pros and cons either to idealize or condemn the role of State along the last six decades of environmental governance. According to Mol the environmental state was exposed to ups and downs in all this period, gaining a broad international recognition during the nineties (Mol 2016), but undergone a recent decline along with a “hybridisation” (Conca 2005) and “diversification” (Spaargaren and Mol 2008) of environmental authorities. As it was mentioned above, national governments and other modalities of public power have been the ’judge and jury’ of the environmental crisis. So, this process of legitimation transcends such evidences, and is sustained by a kind of imaginary which is widely accepted in diverse forums, such as the academic one. According to the ecological critique of the administrative state, this is not “the type of entity that is capable of systematically prioritizing the achievement of sustainability” (Eckersley 2004, 140). The green critical theory maintains that “states are part of the problem rather than the solution to ecological degradation” (Eckersley 2004, 90). Yet, it is easy to find in this left-side environmentalist movements –such as degrowth, eco-marxism and environmental post-structuralism–a notorious advocacy of environmental state in spite of their failures, limitations and inefficacy, recognizing it as the lesser of two evils solution or due to its commonly correspondence with democratic values (Demaria et al. 2013; Ariès 2015; Asara et al. 2015; Kallis 2015). Moreover, this legitimation is not uniquely bonded to the process of mutation into an environmental state, but to the origin and consolidation of modern-state.

Considering this controversy, an eco-anarchist approach may help to question the legitimized power of environmental state and to identify it as a determinant driving force of the ecological crisis. Indeed, anarchist thought agglutinates two conditions for this examination: 1) a radical opposition to the State as an idealistic political organization, based on ontological, scientific and moral precepts; and 2) a long tradition of critical green thought since the early anarchist intellectuals to the contemporary libertarians. Within it, diverse perspectives may be distinguished, from the acknowledged early anarchist geographers as avant-garde environmentalist thinkers, to the appearance of diverse strands in responding the emergence of environmentalist sensibilities emerged in the mid of twentieth century: social ecology, liberation ecology, anarcho-primitivism, bioregionalism and deep ecology.

Being cautious, this work does not pretend to canonize the anarchist vision, as the most authorized voice in order to dismantle the environmental state, for instance, in the line of how R. Goodin excessively asserts that “greens are basically libertarians-cum-anarchists” (Goodin 1992, 152). The “green” labels an incredible spectrum of ideologies, from staunch supporters to bitter enemies, of the role of the State in the environmental agenda. Thereby, greens may encompass both a statist environmentalism, supported by left-side parties, in proportion to social aims and equity policies, but also approaches from ultra-neoliberal sectors, which are partisans of non-interventionist tools on the market, in the framework of green capitalism, but quite far from or even antagonistic to anarchist positions. Yet, I consider green anarchism and the libertarian thought in general offer a radical and utopian position that may help to decolonize a kind of state environmentalism, based on moral precepts such as anti-authoritarianism, social and environmental justice, but also on solid scientific background. Regarding to this green anarchismor anarchist ecology, it has produced a wide variety of insights, perspectives and theoretical background which share common points, but they do not form a monolithic and homogenous discourse. Rather, the different strands concur on similarities but also display divergences in basic aspects such as the idea of progress, the role of technological advances, the spatial organization of societies and ontological view. In addition, considering the historical gap, the kind of arguments raised by early anarchistsrarely went straight on the topic of environmental state. As we explained above, the irruption of this archetypical governance is a contemporary process. Nevertheless, they outlined the main ontological and theoretical skeleton of anarchist thought and produced interesting reflections by theorizing on the State in comparison to Nature and pre-statist societies, which are undoubtedly impregnated of an environmental sensibility. At bottom, they laid the foundations of the modern environmentalist critique.

Therefore, this work proposes to show that green anarchist thought has potential tools for analysing the role played by the State in environmental governance, problematizing intrinsic and structural aspects associated with the State as an anti-governance according to libertarian tradition. But also, anarchist thought might be ideal in order to decolonize the environmentalist discourse and praxis from statist attitudes and its extended legitimation. For that, three points will be analysed in order to questionthe power, authority and efficacy of State in environmental issues: a) the State as an unnatural and external institution to the Nature-society relationships; b) its configuration as entropic and unsustainable spatial model of governance; and c) the production of statist discourse of the idea of Nature and of its management. In addition, some controversies and divergences will be examined within the eco-anarchist perspectives, concluding that there is not an undeniable agreement in their basic insights on State and in their idealization of new alternatives of environmental governance.

The Unnatural S(s)tate

The anarchist imaginary has been traditionally tagged with the stereotypical idea of chaos and licentiousness (Ince and Barrera 2016), whereas State has been associated with order and organization. This stigma has been strengthened comparing anarchism withprimitivism, tribal societies, violent rebels and convulsed times, analogies that many anarchist partisans have intentionally pretended to evoke. On the other hand, some hegemonic political theories of Western thought have related these features to the most ingenuous, mystic, vulnerable, archaic and lower developed stages of history. Instead, states, in spite of their vicissitudes, are the symbol of modernity, civilized and mature societies. Thus, the legitimation of State lies especially on this commonplace and, according to this interpretation, a sustainable society -a sign of green prosperity-must be reached through this governmental filter.

Obviously, this cliché has been contested since very early on by the anarchist thinkers, who, appealing to scientific and moral precepts, have argued over the abolition of State and the suitability of non-statist orders. Anarchist ontology sees the State as an unnatural and alien polity when it is compared to the way in which human societies have organized themselves throughout their historical evolution. In fact, an essential pillar of anarchist utopia is the conception of a social organization in which there is no place for institutions and organizations that gather power and use it to exploit or oppress society. This is the most recognized issue of anarchism: their partisans frontally reject any external institution to society that imposes political authority, hierarchy and domination (Hall 2001). As Black asserts, “morality is to the mind what the state is to society: an alien and alienating limitation on liberty” (Black 2004, 6).

The term ‘unnatural’ contains, at first, a moral connotation for anarchists: State would be for anarchism the least humanized way of organizing a society as it deprives legitimized rights and aspirations of every individual: freedom, justice, equity within diversity, etc. For the founder of social ecology, Murray Bookchin (1921–2006), the State is “unnatural and runs counter to the thrust of evolution” (Davidson 2009, 56) and Ted Trainer,anarchist-oriented thinker who champions the “simpler way” in the conception of more sustainable societies, advocates that “humans will not reach the social maturity until they learn to govern themselves” (Trainer 2017, 183). These contemporary ideas about the ‘unnatural’ State nourish from the early anarchists. Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) categorically asserted that the State “denotes violence, oppression, exploitation and injustice” (Maximoff 1953, 224), being, therefore, “a negation of humanity” (Hall 2011, 376). William Godwin (1756–1836), decades before, stressed the strong antagonism between the State and society, which affects its different ‘nature’: the government or state authority reproduces perpetual stagnation while society manifests itself in aconstant flow (Marshall 1992, 206). He idealized the capacity of societies of being more flexible than immobile states in order to face external changes.

Applying this argument to the performance of government, the coercive power of public institutions is driven to control, monitor and even punish any attempt at abnormal behaviour outside established parameters. Yet, societies would be more suitable to adapt to environmental changes than a heavier and more intricate setting of bureaucratic institutions and normative framework. Based on this binary ontology and capacity of flexibility, it enablesto interpret the genesis of environmental states like an encounter of forces, as a dialectic conflict between society and State. Indeed, environmental states are somehow a metamorphosis with regard to the industrial state, assuming a greater responsibility and transforming institutions, laws and procedures with a green philosophy. However, many of the advances and enhancements in terms of environmental health, protection and rights are actually the reply to societal demands, obtained with great effort and as a result of decades of tragedies, costs and sacrifices. Situations in which society responded through adaptation or self-organized measures before public institutions could or wanted to confront them. In this regard, and following the antagonistic view State/society, the latter has forced to change the State performance through claims and vindications. The correspondence, according to Peter Marshall, is not balanced, as “even its benign face of welfare creates dependence and undermines local initiative, mutual aid and self-help” (Marshall 2001).

Thus, the capacity of societies in order to implement strategies of voluntary self-sufficiency and collective-based are dramatically cut when State intervenes, seen through the anarchist lens. Piotr Kropotkin (1842–1921) asserted that the State, though it is a governmental corpus and normative framework to enforce order in social interrelationships, is also a source of individualism, by which “in proportion as the obligations towards the State grew in numbers the citizens were evidently relieved from their obligations to each other” (Kropotkin 1902). Overall, individualist behaviours, in regards to economic decisions, entail less thought on the moral limits of our actions and practices as ecological citizens (Melo-Escrihuela 2008). Notwithstanding, a voluntary transition to self-sufficiency requires a deep and broader sense of citizenship, and even of kinship, as the French geographer Élisée Reclus (1830–1905) advocated (Reclus 1896), integrating both human individuals as well as non-human life.

Based on Trainer’s insights (Trainer 2017), the minimization of self-government and voluntariness by imposed authority and representative democracies, might be a reason to delegitimize state in a double scenario: a) the State still concentrates power and is the authorized administrator of environmental practices; b) the State has lost power in favour to the financial powers and market agents. In the first scenario, the absence of self-assumed responsibility and action by the citizenship in the context of representative democracies, might lead to a greater centralization of power and the proliferation of eco-dictatorships, presuming aprobable future of acute resource scarcity and negatively affecting the distribution of goods (Trainer 2017). In the second one, State would dramatically fall in a nihilist terrain of neoliberalist attitude, fostering wild competitiveness, individualisticand private interest and degrading environmental facilities gained in the time of environmental states, i.e., a severe application of green capitalism. Following an organizational realist approach, eco-anarchist partisans advocate that “states are organizations that control (or attempt to control) territories and people” (Skocpol 1989; Eckersley 2004). There are internal necessities performed by the State, such as resource extraction, administration and coercive control from which society is excluded or reduced to mere passive individuals. This reinforces the thesis that there are statist interests beside the social ones, which are intentionally hermetic and hidden to the population (Trainer 2017). Namely the State would have exclusive and privatetargets in the environmental performance.

Moreover, the argument of ‘unnatural’ State has also received scientific support among the early anarchist geographers. Basic foundations on ideal society were provided by the geographers E. Reclus and P. Kropotkin, along with Lev Metchnikoff (1838–1888). Indeed, this scientific anarchism gave historical depth and biological proofs to non-statist orders (Mac Laughlin 2017). Headed by Kropotkin, they worked in the conformation of an alternative theory to the most conservative in opposition to the Darwinian evolutionism, being condensed in his well-known work “The Mutual Aid” (Kropotkin 1902). Its essential argument is that in the success of the evolution, whether human or not, cooperation and mutualism were more determinant than competition; attitudes that Kropotkin mainly ascribed to the intraspecific interaction. The cooperation for survival would be the unique solid basis for having an ethical code towards social progress (Mac Laughlin 2017). Such insight was not a brand-new discovery. Actually, the theory of mutual aid continued an intellectual tradition of mutualism approach in Russia, but anarchist oriented (Goodwin 2010) and probably introduced in scientific terms by the own Metchnikoff (Ferretti and Pelletier 2019), with obvious ideological reminiscences in anarchist thinkers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1808–1865) or Robert Owen (1771–1858) (Kropotkin 1912). This would show the State as an ineffective and destructive institution, as it does not cooperate but dominates exerting its power in unfavourable exchange for society. Such argument adds solidity to the initial idea that the State is an unnatural form, whereas society precedes the State and, even according to Kropotkin himself, society is a reality prior to the emergence of the human being: “Man did not create society, society existed before Man” (Kropotkin 1902).

The mutual aid thesis reinforces the role of early, primitive and indigenous societies as models for non-hierarchical and cooperative societies, to which Kropotkin devoted great attention (Kropotkin 1902; 1969) and Reclus considered to have a deeper and more embedded connection with Nature than modern societies (Reclus 1866). Stateless societies, however, encompass different levels of technical advances and complexities, according to the social ecologist Murray Bookchin, identifying a libertarian tradition along the history (Bookchin 1982). These communities lacked an organizational model based on the hierarchy or vertical domain, but they configured political systems, where authority or the exercise of power was not given by something external. Needless to say, those anarchies were not arbitrary or subject to chaos, but had a perfectly structured system, where in addition, the interaction with the environment, was intimate, emotional and deeply respectful. From this ontological view, ethical implications are derived, arguing or justifying the defence of coevolution and mutual support as essential principles of every society, whether human or not. In fact, the political commitment of the anarchist Kropotkin was preceded by his observations of the natural world (Todes 1989; Goodwin 2010; Mac Laughlin 2017).

An Entropic Spatial Organisation

The ‘unnatural’ also designates a quality that entails thinking the State as the least suitable form of social organization to fit in the functioning and integrity of Nature and the human being within it. Not surprisingly, early anarchists were “ecologically oriented” (Morris 1996), advocating tenets that have had continuity in the agenda and praxis of contemporary radical environmentalism, such as decentralization, heterarchical social organization or mutual interdependence. These practices show a clear dichotomy and antagonism in regard to the State’s structure and do notlie exclusively in the exercise of political dialectics. By exploring the roots of the anarchist movement in 19thcentury, it is proven that there is a strong scientific foundation, in which, precisely, the functioning of Nature and the understanding of its interactions motivate the anarchist utopia and therefore the ideal of a society without State.

During this time and thanks to the previous works of geographers such as Alexander von Humboldt(1769–1859), the study and understanding of Nature moves awayfrom the Cartesian mechanical philosophy to an organicist and harmonic vision of life and environment. This approach affirmed that unlike the State there is no centralizing force within the “living” component of ecological systems, “only interaction” (Purchase 1994). Along with this, the organizing principle does not come from external sources but rather it is a self-regulatory behaviour, as Kropotkin argued, where “everything is adapted, ordered, and organized for everything else” (Purchase 1994, 29). It is not (only) a romantic claim yearning the wildlife or a contemplative attitude towards the apparent order of Nature. From a teleological point of view, this equilibrium is not permanent or harmonically achieved without constrictions or variability. Rather, it is understood in a broader reality at the expense of homeostasis or local imbalances. In addition, the external source that nourishes natural ecosystems, i.e., solar radiation, is dissipated to be used at different organizational levels. Using this metabolic model as a reference, the State would be, however, an inefficient machine. It concentrates power to maintain order but at the expense of increasing the entropy in its environment, that is, to those administrative units which are submitted or receive its authority.

In addition, P. Kropotkin largely discussed the spatial strategy of capitalism and its dramatic effects on environment and social life. In doing so, he was revealing the role of States, that he considered “always interfered in the economic life in favour of the capitalist exploiter” (Kropotkin 1912, 84). Thereby, statist targets are oriented to a severe centralization and creating disparities in the standard of living among the population, but also extend social and environmental impacts in the territory. In his work, “Fields, factories and workshops”, he advocated for the decentralization of production units, such as small-scale factories, bonded to the cultivation of fields, which he considered the way to achieve an ecological balance, anenhancement of life conditions of workers and the creation of a counterbalance power to the central authority of State (Mac Laughlin 2017). Indeed, for Lewis Mumford, Kropotkin was a pioneer in a regional conception of sustainable development and organic economic, stressing the mutual interdependence between cities and villages (Mumford 1961; Mac Laughlin 2017). He complained how “in industry, as well as in politics, centralisation has so many admires!” (Kropotkin 1901, 179). In a certain way, Kropotkin was already warning about State as a colonizing force of the welfare imaginary and social progress that decades later would be filter by an environmentalist sensibility.

Given the above, for eco-anarchists, the State is far to be a suitable structure of power to which delegate the management of Nature and environmental problems, given its size and design regarding the eco-social space under its domain. Thus, for bioregionalists, the State is a dysfunctional spatial configuration and the “typically large scale of the nation-state as a territorial unit, when combined with the centralized nature of the state as a decision-making body, ensures that it is insufficiently responsive to the idiosyncratic needs of specific ecosystems” (Davidson 2009, 50). The management of complex, non-lineal and irreversible changes of environmental problems do not fit well in the labyrinthine bureaucratic framework (Dryzek 1992) and innate features (hierarchy, accumulation of power and material resources, administrative boundaries) of environmental states. It may also be stressed the problems associated with the delimitation of administrative units. Bioregionalists insist in the conflict between political boundaries and ecological-natural divisions. Indeed, Snyder warns in regards tothese frontiers, that “the lines are quite often arbitrary and serve only to confuse people’s sense of natural associations and relationships” (Snyder 1980, 24–25). That would be a proof of how, in spite of the creation of supra-national bodies in order to collaborate for the management of cross-national ecosystems, conflicts between nation-states and administrations on which is the responsible or the ruler over these areas are far to be resolved.

Alternatives to the entropic “megamachine” of State (Mumford 1970) are driven to create either communities or cultures which would be “integrated with nature at the level of the particular ecosystem” (Gorsline and House 1990). Based in these precepts, the utopianism of Charles Fourier was for many contemporary anarchists, such as L. Mumford and Murray Bookchin, the first social ecologist ever, inasmuch as he connected the social order with the laws of Nature (Mumford 1970; Bookchin 1982). If these laws are properly understood, will “conduct the human race to opulence, sensual pleasures and global unity” (Beecher and Bienvenu 1972: 1). In the words of Mumford, it would be to move from “megatechnics” or “power” to “biotechnics” or “plenitude”: “If we are to prevent megatechnics from further controlling and deforming every aspect of human culture, we shall be able to do so only with the aid of a radically different model derived directly, not from machines, but from living organisms and organic complexes (ecosystems)” (Mumford 1970, 395).

As it may be deduced, andconsidering the diversity of strands that eco-anarchism has enabled, the realization of this utopia differs among partisans of those strands. One of the differential factors is the intensity of the adaptive capacity of the community to the environmental boundaries and biodiversity. For instance, anarcho-primitivists (J. Zerzan, D. Jensen) mirrors the spirit of early anarchist such as Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) and his quest of wilderness and they “deem ‘civilisation’ in all its various guises to be inherently destructive” (Smith 2007, 472). Consequently, they defend a returning to a more primitive lifestyle. This is supposed to be a kind of tribal organization, achieving a sustaining and pure connection with Nature. On the other hand, bioregionalists and social ecologists keep the duality nature/culture in the political sense, and imagine communities based in principles such as decentralization, self-sufficiency, self-ruling and communal land (Davidson 2009); all of them inspired by the internal performance of natural ecosystems. They will set the conditions for having non-hierarchical relations and avoid the inefficacy of accumulated power of statist institutions, its coercive methods and the delegating responsibilities and rights. Such social utopias would demand a transition from national-state to local governance, but self-ruling cannot be performed in isolation and autarkical way (Sale 2000), considering both the permeability of environmental boundaries and the serious limitation of resources in poorer contexts.

To this regard, some central points are subjected to controversy. For instance, the delimitation of administrative units based on environmental and natural boundaries are exposed to an enormous casuistry. This complicates the determination ofa proper scale or basic unit to which span the management of communities. Social ecologists and Murray Bookchin in particular commit to libertarian municipalism, moulding communitiesto the ecosystems in which they are located (Bookchin 1974). Bioregionalists advocate the bioregion as “an important and unique method of demarcating political space” stressing the importance of “watershed boundaries (the distribution of rivers) as the primary method or regional demarcation” (Purchase 1997). The former has, technically, more problems than the latter, insofar as the political boundaries of municipalities may be a burden to achieve a proper adaptation and management of local ecosystems. On the other hand, the bioregion arises the problem of generating tough constraints to the freedom and internal diversity of population in terms of rude adaptation of available natural goods and environmental thresholds; thereby, and considering a strict application of this natural edges, population would be condemned to a kind of environmental determinism. In this sense, Barry notes, “that would leave some resource-poor economies in a worse position than they need be in the absence of trade and redistribution” (Barry 1996, 233), as he considers inappropriate an autarkic government,to which some bioregionalists and deep-ecology thinkers are partisans (Price 2019). Both scenarios would justify the existence of trade, charity or barter in order to compensate natural imbalances between communities, and to get environmental justice between territories, but far from neoliberal and capitalist codes. In any case, this localist approach, whether forcing previous political demarcations or creating new ecologically-based ones, would potentially respond to the natural diversity and carrying-capacity of the environments, and be more flexible than the restricted form of how environmental policies have been applied by means of statist intervention. This approach would question the existence of same protocols and procedures in different cities, towns and regions, in order to obey higher-scale guidelines by states or cross-national organisms, which in the end lead to a standardization of the solutions: “countries are becoming increasingly similar in how and when they respond to environmental problems”(Duit et al. 2016, 10).

A hypothetical transition to localism demands to reply to the problem that environmental crisis is a global matter that inevitably require a respective global environmental governance, in order to have common agreements and strategies. The same old song that sounds in the situation that environmental states are experimenting and acting nowadays. Nothing new under the sun. Within the philosophy of bioregionalism and social ecology coordinating bodies are proposed and both are moving in the line of federalism. The French anarchist Proudhon was a firm partisan of federalism, and he considered as a system to emphasize the political autonomy and the social order by means of social contracts and contractual exchanges of goods and services (Mac Laughlin 2017). Probably stimulated by this foundational idea, bioregionalists propose a confederation of communities in the shape of communication and information networks, political deliberative and decision-making body (Sale 2000, 96). Murray Bookchin, distancing from the most autarkic ideal of bioregionalism, advocated “libertarian forms of confederalism”, being “a network of administrative councils”, due to “decentralism (and) self-sufficiency which (is not enough)” to “achieve a rational ecological society” (Bookchin, 1989, 6). Yet, they look alike statist institutions (Barry 1996; Davidson 2009), and critical scholars together with eco-anarchist are not very optimistic that bioregions and municipalism by themselves, namely people without authority, even within coordinated and federal structures, will ensure entirely democratic and real commitment with environmental issues, without a quota of coercive power (Goldsmith 1978; Miller 1984; Barry 1996; Davidson 2009). In sum, and considering these vicissitudes, an eco-anarchist would conclude that “a free and ecological society is best organized on the twin pillars of decentralization and federation” with “a direct and participatory form of democracy” (Marshall 2001).

A Statist Discourse Uprooted From Nature

A third aspect of the public legitimation of environmental state resides, once again, in an ontological premise: the human being has created a second nature, outside our first nature (Marshall 1992, 606). This binary vision is actually an Aristotelian-Hegelian teleological tradition that have influenced from the early to the contemporary eco-anarchists, but such entities were not conceived as separated and isolated. For instance, E. Reclus and Murray Bookchin interpreted these two realms as one emerging from the other. That is, second nature is the product of human society, which subsequently and simultaneously emerges from the first nature. All their artefacts, technologies, landscapes, political institutions and ideas are the “consciousness” of the first nature (Reclus 1905–08; Bookchin 1986; Toro 2018), that is, our biological condition and source of material goods. The State would be within the second nature but, under anarchist precepts, it hinders and distorts our necessary approximation and vital link with Nature.

Bookchin appealed to a historical analysis of societies and how power and hierarchical relations have been built up to the present moment. He concluded that the State is “not only a constellation of bureaucratic and coercive institutions but also a state of mind, an instilled mentality for ordering reality” (Bookchin 1982, 94). In this regard, he understands the State as a psyche that has penetrated the way of understanding politics. Therefore, according to him, the management of naturehas been colonized by a statist praxis. Since “environmentalism does not question the most basic premises of our society based on domination and hierarchy” (Marshall 1992, 611), our actions and practices toward Nature are reproducing hierarchical, coercive and authoritarian attitudes as the State ones; to which we may added the individualist and selfish behaviours. Even more, there are eco-friendly practices that are not officially recognized and counted by public institutions, out of control of their protocols or normative framework, for instance: domestic reutilization and recycling of products -non officially classified waste-, organic agriculture without the statist guarantee stamp and informal transmission of environmentalist values and education.

Indeed, the environmental concern of the State and governmental institutions determine, for the social ecologists, the conception of an official environmentalism, guided by an instrumental sensibility of Nature. Thus, the managed Nature would be a simple passive habitat composed of objects, where, at the very best, it must act for the conservation of healthy and pristine redoubts of wild nature and for the control of pollution (Marshall 1992, 611). This reification of environmental compounds is, for Bookchin, the most determinant cause of the ecological crisis. It is not due to the State itself, but any institution or system that coercively or violently fosters, through its authority, obedience, domination and exploitation of society, whether political, religious, social or even cultural (Bookchin 1982). Such behaviours have characterized the state intervention aligned with private corporations; involving them in the most severe damages of twentieth century (McNeil 2000).

Undoubtedly, eco-anarchist thinkers, combining contemporary environmentalism with early traditions, contemplate violence, injustice, coercion and abuse of power non lined up with a constructive and carefully attitude toward natural realm (first nature). Bookchin attempted to synthetize such argument in “Ecology of Freedom” (1982), the title of one of his works. This would mean that a free society can only be achieved through a more respectful and closer relationship to what Nature offers us. Not in vain, for Bookchin, the term libertarian has as its source of inspiration the own functioning of the ecosystem: “the image of unity in diversity, spontaneity, and complementary relations, free of all hierarchy and domination” (Bookchin 1982, 30). An idea shared with early anarchists such as Reclus and Kropotkin, for whom Nature would act as a moralizing force and as a dispenser of values and teachings for fairer and liberating social orders (Reclus 1881; Kropotkin 1893; Toro 2016). Thus, Nature has to be conceived beyond an instrumental way, i.e., as asimple source of resources and goods. Peaceful and moralizing attitudes are relevant for deep ecology partisans, betting for a directly experienced immersion with the natural world (Heckert 2010, 26). For A. Naess, “supporters of the deep ecology movementseem to move more in the direction of non-violent anarchism than toward communism” (Naess 1989, 156).

The official discourse of statist environmentalism is also supported by the structure and design of State. For bioregionalists, the spatial configuration of states feed the epistemic disconnection of society from nature (Davidson 2009, 50). As we argued above, the centralized and hierarchical power of environmental state directly or indirectly is monopolizing the usage and management of Nature. In doing so, it is liberating of responsibilities to the society and creating a perceptual and cognitive filter between the real Nature (first nature) and citizenship. People no longer have to be concerned with manipulating and caring environmental goods, because all of these practices are a matter of State. Public environmentalist propaganda is thus mainly diverted to divulgate a biased and partial knowledge and interrelationship with Nature. Governmental and regulatory institutions will offer solutions and measures that citizenship could and ought to assume (recycling practices, austere habits, use of public transport) because they are regulated and performed according to a normative apparatus, subsidization and taxes. Also, wild spaces and natural parks are systematically organized to make a light and comfortable engagement of society into an iconic and domestic Nature, but keeping everything under the statist control.

The legitimation of environmental actions of State has an added turn, based in the constructionof discourses and commonplaces. As Ward asserted: “Shorn of the metaphysics with which politicians and philosophers have enveloped it, the state can be defined as a political mechanism using force” which “is directed at the enemy without, but it is aimed at the subject society within” (Ward 1996, 24). Not rarely, Nature, the non-domesticated nature or first nature and its changes and forces we cannot control, are presented as this external enemy. In the majority of Environmental Summits, states and governments frequently invocate to a “struggle against climate change”. Certainly, this responds to a deliberative strategy of evading own responsibilities, and bringing together the most of the public involvement, and being condescending with the neoliberal powers and institutions.

Discussion: Divergences Within the Eco-Anarchist UtopiasAround Politics and State

Green strands of contemporary anarchism are far to reproduce a unique discourse in their construction of society-Nature relationship utopia, but also in their critiques of the State. It is not surprising that Bookchin revealed his clear divergence, at least in his early works, with the proposals of eco-Marxism, just because of the role that the State has to accomplishin an environmental facet. He argues that the Marxist conception of environment and its justification of statist governance are clearly capitalist in its understanding of the productive relationship with Nature. There is plenty of evidence during the contemporary environmental history that pollution and environmental degradation were something inherent to both capitalist and communist states, as long as the coexistence of these two blocks existed. On the other hand, historically, there were many samples ofsustainable stateless communities, but it does not mean that contemporary ecological attitudes will be ensured throughout communities that may be based on bioregional or municipalist organizations.

It is true that social ecology, defended by Bookchin, isnot exempt from certain controversies. For instance, he argued that human beings, through technological advances, ought to transform Nature as a way to expand opportunities and thus achieve higher levels of freedom and comfort for society: “an ecotechnology would be use the inexhaustible energy capacities of nature... to provide the ecocommunity with non-polluting materials or wastes that could be easily recycled” (Bookchin 1974, 83–84). Anarcho-primitivists and deep ecologists, in a lesser extent, are oppose to a firmly dependence from technology. Instead, for Bookchin, technology might and has to be emancipatory, but this has not been proven in such a way in green capitalist states or even along the history. Indeed, the analysis of the anarchist thinker L. Mumford on “megamachine” showed the strong ties between statist power and the usage of technology in order to control societies and Nature (Mumford 1967; Mumford 1970). Bookchin saw the State, according to his critical questioning of Marxism, in a transitional period, a period of austerity and sacrifice. For him, precisely the anarchist society should move from the terrain of necessity (Marxist view) to the terrain of freedom (Marshall 1992, 609). Through this interpretation, Bookchin is creating a kind of anarchist cornucopia that does not seem very real in a future scenario of scarcity and degrowth.

Another controversial position within social ecologists and Bookchin is the omitted responsibility with non-human species, an issue that predecessors such as E. Reclus understood as nuclear in the restoration of our links with Nature (Toro 2018). The French geographer conceived non-human and human life as a great family and even acknowledged its quota of importance in political action. As a corollary, Reclus inquired into historical samples to illustrate his thesis and showed how animals have a political weight in some non-statist cultures (Reclus 1896). In the same line, anarcho-primitivists pretend to extend the moral consideration towards animals (Hall 2011), but without questioning a kind of supremacy of human being: “while condemning hierarchical domination and professing rights for all, the Left fails to take into account the weighty needs and interests of billions of oppressed animals” (Best 2009, 191). However, in Bookchin’s thought there is no hint of considering the extension of the political and moral community to other individuals or forms of existence.

This position, qualified, by himself and other authors, as humanist (Bookchin 1974; 1982; Marshall 1992; Smith 2007) and clearly anthropocentric, distances him from other eco-anarchist philosophies. Hence, for example, the internal tensions between social ecology and anarcho-primitivism (Smith 2007), to which we should also add the deep ecology. The discrepancies lie in the interpretation of how the human being has evolved until to fall in a planetary global crisis. Bookchin’s vision is more optimistic, believing that technological development has allowed –and not the control of the means of production, as Marxism defends–to place the human species in an unbeatable situation to build a cooperativist and free society, within a well-balanced and intimate relationship with Nature. In some of his works he fell into a certain instrumentalism, probably inheritance of P. Kropotkin’s insights who, in M. Hall’s opinion, considered that Nature was “something that humanity has to grapple with, to fight and to colonise” (Hall 2011, 378); or when Bakunin considered that “Man ... can and should conquer and master this external world. He, on his part, must subdue it and wrest from it his freedom and humanity” (Maximoff 1953). On the other hand, the vision of anarcho-primitivism is that human race tends towards an increasingly wider and therefore disturbing distance with Nature, which requires a return to a primitive state or early stages of evolution, in order to recover the link with what offers us subsistence and durability on this planet. That is, to achieve the abolition of State by a process of rewilding.

In addition, Bookchin showed a considerably dissident attitude, almost derogatory, with those positions in defence of Nature that make an alleged naive and illusory restoration to Nature, through its sacralisation, spiritualisation or anthropomorphism. To reinforce this thesis, H. Bull warns that ecological degradation an all the sinsassigned to the State (such as violence, injustice, power abuse) were somehow already in pre-statist societies. Indeed, for Bookchin, this excess of romanticismhas reached the point toconstitute one of the ideological foundations of the most shameful state-totalitarian projects, through the defence of a naturalistic nationalism, which had its apogee in Nazism: “deep ecology is subject to the dangers represented by earlier antirational and intuitionist worldviews that, carried over into the political realm, have produced antihumanistic and even genocidal movements” (Biehl and Bookchin 1995). In any case, and according to the right conclusion of M. Smith, “deep ecology ‘allies’ cannot be dismissed as irrational nature mystics sliding down a slippery slope to eco-fascism without engaging in serious historical distortions and omissions” (Smith 2007, 476).

Finally, we may stress the divergence between bioregionalists and social ecologists, especially notorious in the way of conceiving a green community organization: “Bioregionalists tend to be more committed to the principle of autarky, whereas social ecologists advocate confederal structures” (Davidson 2009, 49). The future management natural resources scarcity is not very far from the irruption of national autarkic projects, led by coercive and neo-fascist politics, and raised by the society in representative democracies. This non anarchist scenario show, however, similarities with the bioregionalist proposal, imagining communities based on the self-management of local resources and the defence of a patrioticidea of Nature: “decentralism (and) self-sufficiency... do not constitute a guarantee that we will achieve a rational ecological society.In fact (these principles) have at one time or another supported parochial communities, oligarchies, and even despotic regimes” (Bookchin 1989). For bioregionalism, the State is a not a requisite, but this does not mean that it must be abolished. It is understood that “the quality of social relations within stateless communities is such that the laws, procedures and institutions of the state are unnecessary for governance” (Barry 1996: 114).

Final Remarks

After this analysis, the different ecologically-oriented strands of anarchism deal with a central idea: the incompatibility between free, local and sustainable communities and the State as a hierarchical, oppressive and coercive body, in order to challenge a more responsible and proper management of environmental issues. In fact, anarchists may contribute to influence a critical side of environmentalism which considers the role of environmental state as non-negotiable. Indeed, according to Davidson: “many greens have attempted to take on board eco-anarchistcriticisms of current state structures when formulating their own account of what a green state would look like” (Davidson 2009, 49). Evidently, for eco-anarchists, any more sustainable future would involve the dismantling of governmental institutions. A proper and successful environmental management would demand not bureaucratized and centralized polities, on the line of libertarian municipalism or bioregionalist confederalism. But, following Bookchin, it would not be enough its elimination from the political organizations of societies. In fact, hierarchy and abuse of power are exercised in different strata and areas of society; so, this would require a process of decolonization of the “statist imaginary”. More extravagant and unrealizable seem the anarcho-primitivist proposal, though it may be a source of inspiration thinking in biocentric and ecocentric positions in ethics and politics.

To this regard, it would be intricate to undertake the role of technology in this transition, since this has been frequently associated to the exercise of bureaucratized power and to a vertical and linear way of managing problems: standardized procedures, instrumentalization of the use of Nature, dependency from green technologies to implement solutions, liberation of responsibilities to citizens and little initiative to reflection, education and household practices. Thus, eco-anarchists should work to clarify the weight of technology in an emancipatory and sustainable transition and would be recommendable revisit Lewis Mumford’s theory about “megamachine” (Mumford 1967; Mumford 1970). A deeper reflection and theorization are also missing on how the State and governmental institutions, as well as the function of the public sphere, have negatively affected the environmental conception and concerning that society has today. For instance, the analysis political organization of societies should be complemented and enriched with: the examination of individual versus collective behaviours in the management of Nature; the explorationof the idea of Nature in pre-statist and statist societies and; the analysis of how politics of Nature has been determinant in the consolidation of modern idea of State, etc.

This obviously requires an interpretative framework that integrates approaches involving other disciplines such as environmental psychology, environmental history, ecological anthropology or historical geography, along with political ecology. In addition, decolonial approaches of eco-anarchism and buen vivirare needed to make visible other forms of social organization not mediated by hierarchical and centralizing structures (Barrera-Bassols and Barrera 2018). Probably, it is time to recycle many of the insights of eco-anarchists, from the early to the contemporary approaches, in order to build a more adequate post-statist theory to the current context. Being extraordinarily useful and valued, perhaps there is too much reverence for these approaches, requiring a necessary and fertile revision. Something Bookchin dropped when he considered that anarchism, in the analysis of the roots of the ecological crisis, must go beyond the State. Even more, when, at the present moment, we are facing new ways of oppressionand authority on Internet, by means of, for instance, the use of social networks, the frenetic production of fake information and the post-truth. In any case, the role of anarchism in a transition to a fruitful relationship with Nature seems out of doubt and “is thus scientifically vindicated and presented as the only possible alternative to the threatening ecological extinction” (Marshall 1992).


A sincere gratitude to Gerónimo Barrera de la Torre for his endless patience and to my students Jewellen Adams, Lilah Francis, Sergei Galego, Hannah Martin, Leia Stuart and William Zahner for the exciting discussions and commentaries in class about anarchism and environmentalism that have been determinant in the elaboration of the present work.

Interventions: I. Toward Broader Anarchist Geographies: Space/Place, Nation/State, and Anarchist Scholarship

By Joshua Mullenite


This intervention tries to broaden the theoretical works considered under the framework of anarchist geographies. Currently, scholarship in anarchist geography draws from a limited body of writing for theoretical and practical insights, primarily (but not exclusively) from anarchists who were also geographers. However, people who have self-identified as anarchists, including those from cognate disciplines and those who are not part of academia, have dealt with several concepts of significant interest to geographers. I highlight some of these interventions as a means for suggesting a broader conceptualization of anarchist geography by considering the ways in which various anarchists have grappled with key concepts within geography, mainly focused on the nation and state. Specifically, I argue that further engagement with anarchist scholarship both from within academia and from outside academia’s walls offers a means for understanding the operations of power at play from, within, and beyond the state in human relations.

Keywords: Anarchism, State, Nation, Space, Place


The anarchist roots of geography and anarchism’s potential to inform contemporary geographical scholarship have been well-argued in the pages of this journal and others, often leading to fierce debate (see Springer 2014; Harvey 2017). I share with Springer (2014) a concern over the state-centered logic embedded within much of radical geography, particularly in political ecology where such an approach has the potential to lead to conclusions which not only offer little hope for liberation but which also lead to a mode of analysis that forecloses on the radical possibilities of the present (see Mullenite 2016).1However, in the decade or so that has passed since I was introduced to the possibility of an anarchist academia, I have become weary of the citational practices of many of my academic comrades. This may seem like a minor quibble, but it nevertheless remains an essential and dangerously under-commented upon aspect of anarchistacademic scholarship which leads to the potential to foreclose on radical possibilities, just as many Marxist or Marxian analyses. I agree with Mott and Cockayne (2017, 955) that “careful and conscientious citation is important because the choices we makeabout whom to cite –and who is then left out of the conversation –directly impact the cultivation of a rich and diverse discipline.” However, I extend their ideas to ask: why should we limit our citations to geographers or academics when there is a whole written world available to help us burn down the myriad institutions of oppression we experience?

While I think there is a broader critique of anarchist geography looming in the background, and while this article in some ways reproduces citational practices which are not ideal, the intervention I am making here is specific: anarchist geographers ought to cite more anarchists who aren’t professional geographers but instead draw from both the large anarchist scholarly tradition andthe rich texts produced by anarchists. In the world of academia, there has been a simultaneously rich development of an anarchist academia that has grappled with questions still plaguing geography including environmental issues (e.g. Hall 2011; Morris 2015), the (dis-)location of the west in anarchist thought (Nugent 2012), the revolutionary disruption of socio-spatial norms (Purcell 2013), and how to methodologically commit to an emancipatory political vision (Ssorin-Chaikov 2012). Outside of academic circles, there are thousands of anarchists producing new theory informed by revolutionary practices and developing new practices based on insights both from anarchist academics and from interaction with a literal world of material conditions. Sethness-Castro’s (2012) work on climate change, Crow’s (2011) reflection on anarchist organizing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prison’s (2016) bringing together work linking environmental justice with prison abolition and in the process amplifying the voices of incarcerated people are of easy inclusion for geographers but are not represented in most of the work published in anarchist geography. Additionally, the thousands of anonymous and pseudonymous zines on gentrification, radical ecology, border abolition, gender, sexuality, and a host of other topics should all be of obvious interest to even the most theoretical strains of academic anarchism but nevertheless remain underutilized (e.g., Anonymous n.d.; Do or Die 2003; Trotsky 2011; to name only a literal handful).

My focus on text is because the work emerging from anarchist social movements and practices are often derived from collective struggles and negotiated among groups. They represent ideas individuals and groups feel ready to be made public, which is not necessarily the case with other forms of “insurgent knowledges.” This is especially true in insurrectionary spaces which are about experimentation and often require repeated attempts and various experiences with success and failure before anything useful can be shared. As one reviewer rightfully pointed out, “anarchist academics and others have also been exploring radical, new ways in claiming old, vernacular knowledges while also producing new insurgent knowledges that are not always shared through text, much less concerned about text as a primary medium.” How these ideas are directly incorporated requires its own process of discussion and negotiation that is beyond the scope of this (and any) intervention.

In this article, I want to contend that these individuals and collectives, whether in academia or not, produce work that is likely more relevant to the present historical moment than Kropotkin and Reclus. Despite this, however, they are still marginal in anarchist geography. The most widely cited articles in the field all cite Kropotkin and most cite Reclus, but across the board they leave behind a number of relevant cases and theories from other disciplines and from a number of radicals and revolutionaries on the ground producing and documenting ideas equallyworth engaging with.2This often includes marginalized voices who for a variety of reasons are kept from participating in traditional academic debate and discussion over the issues that affect their everyday lives.

While Clough and Blumberg (2012) have argued that anarchist geographies should look beyond the academy, there have been less sustained attempts to do so, with Heynen and Rhodes (2012) work with Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin being both a significant outlier and highlighting the theoretical and revolutionary potential of such an approach. In this intervention, I outline some of the areas in which anarchist geographers might engage with anarchism more broadly by focusing on four key and inter-related geographic terms:space/place, nation/state. In what follows, I work through these terms, highlighting the extant work by radicals both historical and contemporary which have, for the most part, received short shrift in anarchist geographical scholarship and whose work mayoffer significant theoretical and practical advancements of what is still a relatively niche subfield. My use of these terms is not meant to highlight the extent of this intervention, but instead to point to specific areas suitable for a broader approach.The breadth of anarchist geography could benefit from a similar intervention. Likewise, the examples chosen are those with which I am most familiar. It is my hope that the further inclusion of non-academic materials would help to spread revolutionary ideas within and between individual milieus.

  • I find extreme value in the insights of many Marxist scholars. I disagree with Springer (2014) to some extent on the existence of differences, but do not wish to enter that debate in this particular intervention in order to remain focused on anarchist geographies.


Space is a central concern for anarchists well beyond the confines of anarchist geography. Whether in the more well-known form of Bey’s (1991) “temporary autonomous zones” in which an innumerable series of occupied spaces are reconfigured to anti-State ends (see also Newman 2011) or in the large scale imaginaries of anarchist Ukraine, Spain, or the revolutionary pockets of Rojava which have not yet been quashed by some state or another. Anarchist geography has, of course, considered this, as argued beautifully by both Ince (2012) and Springer (2012). However, anarchists are consistently claiming, reclaiming, and reconfiguring space to suit a variety of needs. In the process, they are producing new ideas about how these spaces are to be claimed and used, developing new and emancipatory politics of both inclusion and exclusion and are sharing this information amongst each other to collaborate further and critique.

As Goyens (2009) suggests, space often needs to be read into anarchist writings, both historical and contemporary, because anarchists are not quick to develop the terms and terminologies of academia.

  • I have intentionally not cited these articles. The focus here is not to critique the work of these scholars but to highlight the broader theme in terms of the relative popularity of the subfield.

While Goyens is focused on actual anarchist spaces (in this case, infoshops, “autonomy clubs,” andbeer halls where anarchists and their ideas could be more readily accepted), we could extend this concern further. In 2012, at an event put on by a Florida-based chapter of Food Not Bombs (which itself sought to reclaim the privatized spaces of the city in solidarity with the homeless), I was given a short zine titled Short Circuit: Toward an Anarchist Approach to Gentrification. The zine, only a dozen or so pages in length, adapted well-known arguments about gentrification from radical geographers to put forward concrete ways in which anarchists could reclaim urban space, fight for their neighbors, and in the process build autonomy from the state. The anonymous authors argue that beyond just an inflow of capital and an outflow of long-time, working class residents, “gentrification brings with it increased repression through the installation of additional CCTV surveillance cameras, the further commodification of public space, a broken window approach to politicking and the spread of private security. [...] [S]truggling against gentrification can represent a negotiation between the global and the local that ought to prefigure all anarchist thought and praxis.” Their argument is obviously geographical andspatial in nature and, significantly, highlights ways forward to advancing an anarchist approach to geographical scholarship developed outside the confines of academia.

The specifically anarchist arguments made in the zine also highlights arguments made by Cresswell (2015) and others about the importance of neighborhoods and communities in the process of place-making. Squatting, rioting, and community organizing are all central components to the anarchist approach to gentrification (see Drissel 2011) and are likewise well-developed in the literature on place and place-making as are the creation of infoshops and the appropriation of pubs for the purpose highlighted by Goyens (2009). Digging deeper into the work and ideas produced in these spaces could allow for the theoretical development of an anarchist sense of place, one which allows thinking through a variety of spatial contestations without relying solely on those which depend on interventions by state or capital.At what point do such interventions become a valuable part of anarchist geography? It would not besurprising to see such articles cited a century from now (in an imaginary world not completely altered by climate change) noting with interest how anarchists from across North America shared ideas about gentrification and how to fight it both digitally and through zines which were often traded freely at fairs dedicated to the purpose. The archive, both in terms of its use in publishing works from the handful of historical anarchist geographers and in bringing forward their letters, have been significant inthe development of contemporary anarchist geography. But websites like infoshop.org, libcom.org, and The Anarchist Library are filled with self-published articles and open letters to comrades that deserve equal critical attention.


Perhaps themost glaring omission from anarchist geography has been a detailed theoretical analysis of the origins, role, and potential of the state. The state was and remains a central institution within anarchist theory and practice, both in its form as shaping thelimits of personal and interpersonal interactions along largely hierarchical lines as well as in the ways it produces sets of affects which inspire both despair and revolution. Anarchist geography is no different, with recent articles highlighting the current role and failure of the state to offer the ordered protections that it promises (see e.g. Araujo et al. 2017; Ince 2019).

Even though the state is at its core a geographical unit, it is not necessarily surprising that anarchist geography has not engaged with it deeply on a theoretical level. Kropotkin’s (2019) essay on the state remains in recent production and is widely cited in anarchist geographical scholarship and the work of anthropologists of the state such as Scott (1997; 2009; 2017) and Clastres (1989) remains of extreme value and importance both in terms of their analyses of the state as a set of institutions but also in their demonstration of alternative non-state formations (see Ferretti 2018; Springer 2012). At the same time, this anthropological scholarship is far from settled and there are debates within anthropological theory about the role of the state in both anarchism and anthropology. Both Martin (2012) and Robinson and Tormey (2012), for example, argue that the appropriation of anthropological theories of non-and anti-state societies studied throughout the world within “actually-existing-anarchism” has historically pushed forward both anthropological theory and anarchist practices and reclamations of space against the state.

What is missing here is then not just a lack of engagement with other relevant academic traditions, but rather with the revolutionary tradition that is not affiliated with the norms of academia. Why, for example, has there not been equal attention paid to both the critique of the state, the attempt to build a viable alternative, and the various ways in which the actually-existing institutions of the state work to undermine these alternatives provided by radicals in places like Africa (Mbah and Igariwey 1997), Mexico(Hodges 1995), Venezuela (Uzcategui 2010), Cuba (Fernandez 2001; Shaffer 2019) or the Caribbean more broadly (Edwards 2014), or even within the United States (Crow 2011). More recent work, like Kadalie’s (2019) Pan-African Social Ecologybrings this critique of the state to a transnational level, placing and articulating an anarchist tradition alongside one long claimed by Marxists and other state-focused socialists, addressing a key concern raised by Ince (2012) with regards to the need to look beyond thenation-state in anarchist geography. Kadalie himself is an interesting character in this regard as he is an academic who has largely eschewed formal academia, convening the Autonomous Research Institute for Direct Democracy and Social Ecology in order to better understand the relationship between revolutionary movements and the environments in which they occurred. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but the lack of visibility of this type of work in our scholarship does no one any favors.

Likewise, these works were often engaging with and directly confronting nationalisms, both mundane and revolutionary (e.g., Anderson 2005; Shaffer 2019; Uzcategui 2010). Anarchism’s direct confrontation with nationalism is, at this point, centuries-old (see especially Rocker 1937) so it is unsurprising that this would be the case. And there have been recent critiques of various forms of nationalism coming from anarchist geographers. Araujo et al. (2017) provides a particularly clear view on this as it represents several perspectives, but this is primarily a polemical intervention (in the same vein as this) and not necessarily an in-depth study of nationalism from an anarchist-geographical perspective. It would likewise not be difficult to find work by geographers and those in allied disciplines which researched anarchist groups that oppose nationalism, but how might the insights of these various groups be used to inform scholarship on a range of topics, bringing them in to the fold of the academic anarchist canon that has emerged through recent scholarship or to destroy the idea of a canon altogether?


Without the specific engagement of work being produced by those who are not necessarily engaged in academic knowledge production, geographers in general and anarchist geographers are creating a situation that has the potential to limit our theoretical insights into our very core ideas. As Martin (2012) has shown, engaging with this work offers the opportunity to push the boundaries of our understanding, creating not only new scholarly insights in conversation with comrades and interlocutors typically left out of such discussions. It also works to flatten the space highlighted here, in which academic or scholarly work is considered separately from work produced by anarchists engaged in what are typically protracted and extremely situated struggles. This is especially significant in that there is really crucial work being done by BIPOC and anarchist geography (and the academy as a whole) has a problem with being dominated by white, cisgendered, men. Even in my own scholarship, though I read and implicitly draw on ideas that I find in zines, flyers, pamphlets, and even music, I don’t often incorporate them directly into the work I produce that might be called scholarly (i.e., the work that “counts” when it comes to applying for academic jobs, grants, etc.). This form of silo-ing anarchist literature is not that significant in the political long run, but that is not reason enough to keep it in place.

The solution is not, however, to simply add a new list of publications to cite but to instead draw on the vast bodies of knowledge that inform our individual praxes, sometimes through released texts and others through communal negotiation as Reviewer 1 suggested above. The sources included here are a result of my own experiences detailing the histories of workers self-management in the Caribbean and in anti-gentrification social movements, for example. I would not necessarily expect others to be familiar with them but hope thatthey provide spaces through which anarchist geography (and hopefully anarchist thought in general) can grow. Likewise, it is the sincere hope of this intervention that an increased focus on other works not only makes anarchist geography more representative, but also brings forward a range of ideas that can help toward building a better future.

Interventions: II. Society Despite the State: An Experiment in ‘Counterfactual Statism’

by Gerónimo Barrera and Anthony Ince


Geography as a discipline has its foundations in colonialist, imperialist, capitalist and nation-building endeavours. The state has been central to its institutionalisation and has shaped in many ways the epistemic frameworks that continue to dictate how geographical knowledge is produced. This intervention is part of an ongoing project in which the authors seek to decentre the dominance of the state in geographical imaginations and reignite a critical self-examination of anarchist thinking on the state; a gaze the authors term post-statism. We contribute efforts to unpack and disrupt the prevalence of the state as an indisputable, intrinsic human institution that is essential to our contemporary and globalised world. This paper builds on radical and anti-authoritarian perspectives to interrogate how the state could be expounded from multiple purviews. In order to convey the latter, we examine a fundamental moment in the state’s understanding and representation through a counterfactual engagement with statism. We draw on non-academic sources (sci-fi literature) to question what may have happened if we had not invented the state. This point seeks to dislocate statist thought through critiques and imaginaries that question our reality – indeed, the separation of reality and fiction itself – and bring into focus other worlds.


A Man stands, bent over, with the world on his back, a small globe surrounded by layers and layers of the long history of human oppression. The image, from an issue of The Match! anarchist journal (Woodworth, 1999), is labelled a “fantastic burden”, organized through authority, power, control and coercion, inscribed on a belt that squeezes all together, so the Man remains on bended knee. On top we notice “Discard Statism” in red; we read then other futures, those that have been halted by the “fantastic burden” that the Man has built over his shoulders1. Nonetheless we also read a future that reflects a past built unambiguously, where our “fantastic burden” remains an irrevocable and visible fact. The image speaks to both the sense of totality of power emanating from the state, but, balanced on the Man’s back, also hints at its artificiality and precariousness. So, in order to concretely think through the toppling of these spheres, and what lies beyond them, whatif we turn around to reflect on “What might have been if the state had not been invented?”. How might such an exercise help us to understand the state and statism better, and find paths beyond it?

This paper focuses on alternatives to the state through anexercise in counterfactual statism. We approach the latter reflecting on anti-authoritarian/ left-libertarian sci fi literature, specifically the novel De cuando en cuando Saturnina. Una historia oral del future (Spedding, 2004), as a salient example in the genre that interrogates the supposed inevitability of the state. We frame this intervention through counterfactualism as a productive and positive approach (Lundy 2013) that opens up horizons that problematize our reality, and even to disrupt the same distinction of reality/fiction that has taught us not to dare imagining other worlds. We make use of this as a lens that draws attention to the open possibilities of histories and geographies; an approach that reiterates the contingent nature of history, and in doing so, the state’s contingent nature too. Counterfactualism challenges conventional accounts of new societal possibilities not by confronting existing reality but by exploring how “things have been (and could be) different,” specifically, in this case, concerning the state’s ubiquity. We turn to the potential of counterfactual imagination “to disrupt the stability of that which is imagined away” (Day 2010, 260). The stories we reflect on convey left-libertarian, anti-authoritarian geohistories that “unmake the state” and explore alternatives to the Man’s burden in our opening passage.

In the remainder of the text, we explore this disruptive character of counterfactualism and underline its value as holding cognitive and affective power. The possibilities that it produces for imagining and developing alternative configurations to the state, reaffirming its contingency, and developing prefigurative processes and insurgency, is where we argue counterfactualism offers a meaningful space into nurturing other worlds, other futures. This intervention reflects on such aspects in two ways: first, it delineates and problematizes popular understandings of the state in which our take on counterfactualism is grounded, and then it frames the literary works we examine, exploring in depth counterfactual statism as an analytical tool for questioning the significance of such approach.

This intervention adds to a larger project the authors are conducting to decentre the dominance of the state in geographical imaginations and reignite a critical self-examination of anarchist thinking on the state, through both a reappraisal of canonical anarchist texts and the use of other anti-authoritarian or left-libertarian viewpoints, a gaze the authors term post-statism(e.g. Ince andBarrera 2016). We argue that the state and geography have been central to each other’s institutionalisation, and the state has shaped in many ways the epistemic standards that continue to dictate how geographical knowledge is produced.

  1. diatropebooks.com

Counterfactual statism is proposed here as a tool that helps us not only signal such dominance, but as a meaningful approach in the continuously becoming process to “discard statism”.

The State We Live In (Post-Statism)

Sebastien Faure commented in 1924 (2018, 191) that “history proves to us that the state always and everywhere was a social system that definitely established, legalized, and defended inequality, property, and the exploitation of the labouring masses.” The state has been central to anarchist and left-libertarian thought; still, its definition and explanation have always found limits as its complicated conformations and ambiguous configurations reveal that narrow or simplistic views of what it is and does only serve to reify it. Additionally, although the state has such primacy as arguably the archetypal hierarchical institution of recent centuries, its articulation and intersection with other forms of authority has nourished multiple patterns of domination (Volcano and Rogue, 2018). In light of the intersecting trajectories and axes of statist domination, our approach drawing on a post-statistview focuses on interrogating continuously, how the state could be expounded from multiple purviews. Instead of establishing a single approach as the only valid one, we focus on diverse understandings of the state and coercive authority to enhance our perspective on the basis of plurality.

Imagining and building “an elsewhere in the here,” futures beyond the bounds of state-centred purviews, represents also the performance of other worlds. Overlooking the intricacies of state, as a continual process of securitization of coercive power, advances a narrow conception that neglects the contradictory elements and strategic alliances that generate “unanticipated patters of domination and their transformation” (Sivaramakrishnan 1999, 7). Simon Springer (2016, 81) invites us to reflect that domination should be considered multifarious, a reading that geography actually demands, and to consider there is no single site of oppression butmultiple. Post-statismdraws on such approximation to critically engage the plurality of experiences that historically have fought back and prevented the emergence of hierarchy and coercive authority, and rejected state formation altogether.

Beyond fiction or fetishization, we look at the Man whose reality obscures any alternative to state-based existence. Sebastien Faure indicated the complexity of such reality considering that “whoever would suppose that the state is something fully real and definable would be crudely wrong. Every attempt to define the state precisely, scientifically, and clearly has failed, at least up to the present” (2018, 189), a point which almost one hundred years later, remains pertinent. Beyond technical dimensions of the state, the state we livein–our lived experiences of the state –becomes enmeshed with multiple forms of oppression and hierarchical institutions that could only be overcome through manifold and dynamic anti-authoritarian perspectives.

It is through the profusion of forces that we seek to endorse counterfactual statism, as it can contribute to the variegated possibilities to imagine an elsewhere in the here. Societies despite the state (and capital) have been always present; and the traditionally Western-based anarchist perspective has imbricated manifold currents from the Global South coming from different experiences and worldviews. We turn to these approaches to learn and recognize the possibilities that are opened through, for example, the radical alternatives of decolonization and indigenous autonomies. The latter, for example, following Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017), is built through forms of organization in the absence of coercion, multiple forms of hierarchy, and authoritarian power. Since dispossession has been the definition of indigenous people’s relationship with the state, decolonization entails an anti-state perspective and a call for “relationships based on deep reciprocity, respect, noninterference, self-determination, and freedom” (2017, 8).

In this intervention, despite both holding affinity with the struggle against capital and state, we cannot fully explore the complex and often contradictory intersections between anarchist movements on one hand, and indigenous/ peasant movements and the decolonial struggle on the other. Needless to say, in Latin America and other parts of the world anarchist ideas have travelled and transformed because of particular circumstances, patterns of networking and exile, and worldviews (e.g. Maxwell and Craib, 2015). Moreover, as Lagalisse (2019) highlights, the intersection between indigenous movements and anarchist perspectives have been many times antagonistic due to a secularization of social movements and masculine arrangements through which sexism, privatization of religion, and racism lingers. In contemporary Latin America, decolonial and autonomous movements have generated new conversations on the possibilities of reigniting left-libertarian ideas drawing on their own historical struggles against colonialismand their worldviews. In this sense, for the case for Bolivia in which the novel we examine takes place, Rivera Cusicanqui has engaged with anarcho-syndicalist and left-libertarian thinking oral history in Bolivia. Through this analysis, she reflects on the link between ideas of community and indigenous identities with anarchism, and how unions took inspiration from left-libertarian ideas to interpret their life experience (Rivera, 2016). We see a close link between this oral history and the way Spedding conveys her story, for instance the non-linear temporalities and reinterpretations of left-libertarian perspectives.

Such views recognize also that resistance may remain aligned to a state-centred vision, a hierarchical relation between oppressed and oppressing. Certain forms of resistance can serve to reify and reinforce that which one refuses: for example, state socialist resistance to the capitalist state fails to challenge the fundamental logics of the state. Instead of resistance, a post-statist perspective seeks to develop a refusal of statist relations and structures that does not normalize hierarchical relation or victimization, but upholds a critical and dynamic form to convey an elsewhere in the here. Refusal of state as an indisputable, intrinsic human institution; the refusal of that reality of the Man on bended knee. Can we refusesuch reality? Can we abolish what is perceived as inevitability? In this regard, we must recognize finally that the state lingers in the more fundamental scale of human relations, and as Landauer (2010, 214) argued: “The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently. [...] We...must realise the truth: we are the state! And we will be the state as long as we are nothing different.” To refuse such constraints, we seek a sociospatial imaginary that does not begin with the logics of the state, but with a search for other logics altogether.

Counterfactual Statism. Destabilizing the Here and Now

“The intention of insurrection is what might be referred to as revolution of the everyday, where individuals become ‘insurgents’ by refusingthe existing structures of domination and walking their own way” (Springer 2016, 84). These words are echoed in the distant future of a decolonized Bolivia in De cuando en cuando where Saturnina, an anarcha-feminist hacker, who, against the renewed order, stands to declare “somos la revolucion permanente” (“we are the permanent revolution”) (Spedding 2004, 82). Her fight is not only against the old colonial order, but the emergent patriarchy that has been renewed under a declared egalitarian society. Through this sci fi novel, as well as in Ursula Le Guin’s (2004) The Dispossessed,we travel to places were the Idea (Anarchy) is not just suddenly realized as if it would be possible to seize in completeness; on the contrary, we are placed in horizons where left-libertarian perspectives proliferate alongside their inconsistencies. Distancing themselves from eighteenth and nineteenth century literature that many times connected with Enlightenment aspects of classical anarchist cosmovision, the characters of recent novels complicate anti-authoritarian futures and places, acknowledging the intersection of a variety of patterns of domination not as a whole to be simultaneously abolished but as a set of intertwined social relations that can only be worked at unevenly. Instead of magical horizons, these representations of “societies without a state” engage creatively with alternative forms of social organization that generate new possibilities. Clearly neither contemporary nor classical accounts can overcome a long history of subjugation in one novel or story. Additionally, “utopian texts never fully escape the conditions of their production” (Bell 2016, 143) –indeed, nobody really does. What we can do is to read such texts to question anarchism’s limits and ‘rough edges’, and to hold on to the work they do in our world,in disrupting what is thought to be inevitable; to question the same stark distinction between reality and fiction, between actuality and dreams.

In De cuando en cuando Saturnina, the Zona Libre is the liberated territories that comprise most of actual Bolivia and a region of Peru. Here, an indigenous and campesino movement, labelled as a racist movement or as “indigenist expansionism” by governments of other countries, proposes to establish a model based on “not a New Power but the counter-power” (Spedding 2004, 102). Even though there is no national government, Saturnina explains to us, “that does not mean that there isn’t a certain social control institutionalized” (Spedding 2004, 125). Additionally, a fundamental autarchy and isolationism has given theZona Libre an aura of mystery as sympathizers or not find it extremely difficult to know what is happening inside. We will not go into details here, as there are other papers that examine other aspects of the novel and its complex organization (e.g. Burdette 2011). We will just emphasize here that the book is structured following a series of interviews and testimonies of women that give us the opportunity to open the “Andean Iron Wall” and know this brave people.

As Saturnina explains to Alejandro Valdes (a sympathizer who wants to expand the Zona Libre to other parts of South America): “In the Zone we are not the heaven of workers (obreros). If you said you know the history, you know then that Left served us as badly as the Right. If you are one of those groups that shuffle in their name with words like Revolutionary, People, Red, Liberation and Army, you know where you can put your suggestions”(Spedding 2004, 123). Over a pair of 4X beers in an Australian bar, Saturnina explains that Zona Libre operates without state government, and how each union deals with its own business. Alejandro answers:

A: “Anarchism in the Andean way”

S: “Is that how we are classified from the outside?”

A: “Is that wrong?”

S: “Well, it is better than intolerant indigenist or racist exclusivism, I guess” (Spedding 2004, 125).

While there is a strong tradition of anarchism in Latin America, with strong engagements with Indigenous movements, we see here how the label of anarchism is questioned as a concept applied “from the outside”. Both Saturnina and Shevek (the main character of The Dispossessed written by Ursula K. Le Guin (2004)) manifest through different registers renewed possibilities towards societies refusing the state. The creation of such worlds, as Lundy (2013) asserts, tells us something significant about the ubiquity of certain causal chains that define our reality (or our conception of it); about the contingency of history and its becoming. Moreover, as De cuando en cuando shows through a non-linear perspective, such assertions of worlds without states are based on thousands of years of acquired knowledge. This is a “pre-existing knowledge” that challenges specific cause-effect relations and serves as experiential antecedent to expose the limits imposed on our own image of the state (and its abolition). Particularly, in this Zona Libre, we found ourselves exposed to our own past-futurity(pasado-futuridad) (Burdette 2011)to understand the incidence of coercive structures of power in the statemaking process but also prior to it. This “pre-existing knowledge” emerges in the case of Zona Libre through campesino and indigenous standpoints, a past-futurity that projects how could it be if Bolivian society regains autonomy and a communitarian ethic (Burdette 2011). These radical alternatives to the (colonial) state are equally expressed by Indigenous researchers, such as Simpson (2017), via the decolonizing perspectives that are renewed among Nishnaabeg communities as they have always done; as part of the continual decolonization process as anti-state practice.

De cuando en cuando creates new forms of anti-authoritarian worlds, as have been argued in the case of Shevek’s Anarres (Call 2007). Through these worlds,ours can be destabilised, and the possibility “that things might have been different” becomes visible, questioning “aspects of our world and its past that are usually assumed to be immutable, or more likely simply ignored altogether” (Day 2010, 260). For us, such counterfactual works are a destabilising strategy as well as a provocative tool to confront taken-for-granted reality, bringing with it a system of values and standards “undermining certainty, challenging the very concept of the normal” (Call 2007, 94). That is, the “fantastic burden” not onlycomprises the state and statemaking processes but also, by virtue of their oppositional position, anti-authoritarian standpoints with their various inconsistencies and assumptions. The insistence on possibilities beyond our actuality make it necessary forus to consider future spacetimes in the hereand nowin terms of multiplicity, open to contingency: it demands that we recognise other worlds already living among us. On the one hand, this surpasses essentialist notions that reify or victimize not only the oppressed but also anti-authoritarian perspectives and, on the other, it allows us to realize the becoming and dynamic nature of anti-authoritarian struggles.

We found these liberated worlds to be a critique of how different disciplinary tools and patterns of coercion persist or emerge even in such societies that have fought to regain autonomy and exclude authoritarianisms. How coercive power is secured, expressed, limited, and distorted tells us something not only about the dynamics of statemaking but also why no anti-authoritarian perspective is ever complete. These are not prefigurative of a final form or telos (Bell 2016); on the contrary they are always becoming. And what we think of as left-libertarian or anarchistic today will differ from future generations’ understandings and practices. In these terms, decolonization, then, is a process that entails not only dismantling statism but other structural power asymmetries within communities such as patriarchy, capitalism and racism, which are all inherently intertwined (Burdette 2011). The anarchist or libertarian landscapes that come to exist in these sci fi works are represented in specific contexts and as part of permanent ongoing and open-ended debates about the possibilities of anti-authoritarian thinking. The insurgent “interplay of temporalities and spatialities” (Gilbert and Lambert 2010, 249) that register in these landscapes are a clear attack on teleological accounts and accumulative narratives that fix possibilities, instead of considering such spaces as something in process, as becoming (Kneale 2010, 299). Such critique can reveal not only the character of our pernicious reality under the “fantastic burden”, but also provides some past-future manifestations of what a post-statist standpoint could mean in practice. The utopic horizon depicted in these worlds shows a horizon of continuous possibilities where we are asked to reflect on the silences, inconsistencies, contradiction but also on what could be if the state had been excluded from our lives. De cuando en cuando also demonstrates how “the institutionalization of insurrection, where counterpower becomes power, is where anarchy becomes a new horizon of possibility” (Burdette 2011, 125) instead of being per sea static, final result.

Final Thoughts

To explore the geographies of a post-statist world, we must open the horizon of possibility toother ways of instrumentalizing and organizing power (Burdette 2011, 128).Currently, it is important to rethink decolonization struggles and their intersection with anarchism particularly considering state-led schemes of ‘multicultural’ strategies and land titling strategies that have had consequences on indigenous people through reproducing and entrenching (capitalist, modern) state schemes of dispossession under the guise of ‘recognition’ (Rivera, 2012). It has become clear that the abolition of the state is part of an even deeper process for more fundamental transformation of the relations that govern our lives. We have argued here that, to that end, counterfactual statism should pay close attention to the multiple forms in which anti-authoritarian experiences and worlds become. Through the world of Saturnina, this intervention provides additional insights to the analysis of the state beyond a narrow perspective that only centres on the state as a means to an end, or as a set of benign structures, and gives more analytic attention to the experience of multilayer and diverse realities that make it the archetypal form of hierarchical organization.

We have argued that counterfactual statism sets a stage to question the separation between reality and fiction, opening the possibility to visualize other worlds as lived and ‘peopled’ rather than simply imagined, and bringing together different worldviews through these lived scenarios and simulations. The latter becomes central to our case because within these cracks remain constituents to dare imagine other possible worlds. Furthermore, we suggest that in order to imagine and create these worlds, counterfactual statism is strategic in a prefigurative sense, as through it we can see both what is lacking and what other anti-authoritarian imaginations and purviews might be explored.


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