Pierre Bélanger

Harvard University

EXTRACTION

“What we from our point of view call colonization, missions to the heathen, spread of civilization, etc., has another face—the face of a bird of prey seeking with cruel intentness for distant quarry—a face worthy of a race of pirates and highwaymen. All the other eagles and other predatory creatures that adorn our coats of arms seem to me apt psychological representatives of our true nature.”
–Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961)

The current discourse on climate change has failed to acknowledge the territorial sovereignties and political geographies that confront the bounded systems and perceived permanence of the nation state. The real crisis, if there is one, seems to be located in the minds, models, and media of citycentric populations that are more and more removed from means of material production and territories of resource exploitation. Put otherwise, the map is no longer the territory.

This spatial, ontological divide—between metropolis and hinterland—is exacerbated by an explosion of industrial operations and incorporations seamlessly crossing political boundaries and geographic borders. So large, so vast, and so fast is the pace and scale of these operations, they are seemingly impossible to imagine, let alone to represent. Although the flow and concentration of industrial extractive capital may vary with ‘urban demand,’ ‘technological capacity,’ or ‘discovery of resources’—whether onshore or offshore, structures of political power and systems of social control have remained relatively unchanged and unchecked for the past four to five centuries. In the words of systems thinker Georg Hegel (Philosophy of Right, 1820): “the development of the State into a constitutional monarchy is the supreme product and power of the world today, in which its ideal and unlimited condition has been reached.” Clearly, the contemporary, colonial condition survives.

If then “the problem of territory, and of territoriality, is one of the most neglected in geography and political economy” according to the alter-urbanist Claude Raffestin (Pour une Géographie du Pouvoir, 1980), how should we re-imagine the current axis between the metropolis and the hinterland that underlies the contemporary focus on the city and on the state? How do we rethink, resist, and subvert the imposed, imperial binaries between the urban and the rural, the north and the south, the center and the periphery, that are entrenched in misleading oppositions of town and country, property and sovereignty, occupation and inhabitation, settlement and seasonality, civilization and wilderness? Drawing from the claim by contrarian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (The New Industrial State, 1967) that “capital and power became

Drawing from the claim by contrarian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (The New Industrial State, 1967) that “capital and power became more important land in the past century,” the renewal of the geopolitical discourse on territory is fundamentally contingent on the reclamation of land, landscape, and life.

Proposing a contra-colonial lens, this presentation profiles current Canadian states and scales of extraction through 3 inter-related processes that lie between the colonial conceptions of the metropolis and the hinterland: territorial displacement, regulatory discrimination, and indigenous dispossession. Drawing from subliminal symbols and persistent projections of state power, specific references will be made to professional practices and institutionalized disciplines of architecture, engineering, and planning whose origins reveal underlying imperial motives and whose pedagogical curriculum continue to normalize colonial systems of spatial inequity through countless standards, surveys, specifications, and signifiers. Inscribed in this bureaucratic structure and infrastructural grid of banks, prisons, parks, cities, suburbs, highways, dams, mines, pipelines, and reservations (to name a few), these systems represent the engineered slate upon which the State—and of the Crown—exercise their influence and perpetuate their supremacy.

Critically questioning the current and fervent climate of celebration of Canada’s 150 years of Confederation in 2017, the presentation seeks to contribute a basis for undermining the industrial underpinnings and imperialist hegemonies that lie on, and below the surface of contemporary settlerstate space whose foundations rely and rest on the perpetuation of undisclosed spatial inequities, environmental injustices, and cultural inhumanities.

Bio
As a Canadian-American Landscape Architect and Urban Planner, Pierre Bélanger is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and Co-Director of the Master in Design Studies (MDes) Program Area in Urbanism, Landscape, and Ecology with urban geographer Neil Brenner and design engineer Bobby Pietrusko. Cross-appointed with the Advanced Studies Program in Design and the Canada Program at the Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Bélanger teaches and writes on subjects at the intersection of territory, history, infrastructure, media, conflict, and power. Involved in trans-media activist practice, his most recent work includes the curation of the controversial Canadian Pavilion on #EXTRACTION at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (@1partperbillion) in collaboration with goldsmiths Kevin Hume & Geneviève Ennis (Atelier Hume, Vancouver), design fabricator Stephen Beites (Beites & Co., Toronto), ecologist & planner Nina-Marie Lister (Ryerson University, Toronto), and the architectural collective RVTR (Toronto-Detroit). As the first landscape architect to receive the Canada Prix de Rome in Architecture, Bélanger is also author of the 35th edition of Princeton Architectural Press’ Pamphlet Architecture Series in 2015, titled “GOING LIVE: From Models to Systems,” which profiles the influence of time on a range of territories through living systems and lived experiences, and also features conversations with Keller Easterling, Sanford Kwinter, and James Corner. Bélanger’s recent publications include two core books designed by OPSYS Media that employ the lens of land and landscape to understand the power of nation states, institutional systems and engineering sciences, LANDSCAPE AS INFRASTRUCTURE: A Base Primer (Taylor & Francis, 2016) with a foreword by technological historian Rosalind Williams, and ECOLOGIES OF POWER: Countermapping the Military Geographies & Logistical Landscapes of the U.S. Department of Defense co-authored with Alexander Arroyo (MIT Press, 2016). Recent collaborations include guest editing the 39th Issue of Harvard Design Magazine with Jennifer Sigler titled “Wet Matter”, an issue exploring the future of the ocean and precursor to research on world waters, The Oceanic Turn. He is also editor of the forthcoming book EXTRACTION EMPIRE (MIT Press, 2017) featuring a range of interviews, archives, and essays from Canada’s most influential scholars, artists, and industrialists, profiling the scales, spaces, and systems of the largest resource extraction nation on the planet.