A Requiem to Late Liberalism

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: October 2016

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory

In Geontologies Elizabeth A. Povinelli continues her project of mapping the current conditions of late liberalism by offering a bold retheorization of power. Finding Foucauldian biopolitics unable to adequately reveal contemporary mechanisms of power and governance, Povinelli describes a mode of power she calls geontopower, which operates through the regulation of the distinction between Life and Nonlife and the figures of the Desert, the Animist, and the Virus. Geontologies examines this formation of power from the perspective of Indigenous Australian maneuvers against the settler state. And it probes how our contemporary critical languages—anthropogenic climate change, plasticity, new materialism, antinormativity—often unwittingly transform their struggles against geontopower into a deeper entwinement within it. A woman who became a river, a snakelike entity who spawns the fog, plesiosaurus fossils and vast networks of rock weirs: in asking how these different forms of existence refuse incorporation into the vocabularies of Western theory Povinelli provides a revelatory new way to understand a form of power long self-evident in certain regimes of settler late liberalism but now becoming visible much further beyond.


"Geontologies is a dense work that resists being described in telegraphic terms, based as it is in dazzling and far-reaching theoretical and philosophical readings. But Povinelli’s key concepts of 'geontology' and 'geontopower' are an invaluable contribution to our much-needed critical lexicon, [and] the concepts and modes of engagement presented in Geontologies, though firmly rooted in the experience and particular governance of Australian settler late liberalism, demand to be taken up and translated in other contexts." — Shela Sheikh, Avery Review

"Geontologies may well inspire new possibilities for thinking, relating and being." — Eve Vincent, Australian Aboriginal Studies

"Even though a chasm exists, and widens as the book progresses, between the overwhelmingly Western and male company of critical theorists and the indigenous insight that the author seeks to highlight, Povinelli’s odd pairing has the advantage of deforming the reader’s expectation that ethnography should be an immutable source of evidence for critical theory. The combination resists synthesis." — Jean-Thomas Tremblay, Critical Inquiry

Geontologies is a challenging, exhilarating, and terrifying read. Challenging and exhilarating for all those interested in what deep ethnographic inquiry has to offer to a broad range of contemporary philosophy and social theory. And terrifying and exhilarating for those who find themselves asking whether the drama of Life’s possible extinction really matters.” — Andrea Muehlebach, Anthropological Quarterly

"Short, conceptually packed . . . a rewarding read that will keep reverberating." — Mario Blaser, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Geontologies contributes valuably . . . offering a sophisticated account of the Australian context as well as analytic tools and vocabulary to continue the work elsewhere." — Zoe Power & Kirsten McIlveen, Social & Cultural Geography

"Between bios and geos, Life and Nonlife: not an opposition, rather a composition. Beyond biopolitics lies the realm of 'geontology,' where the living and the nonliving co-compose to produce singular modes of existence and forms of power—and empowerment. In Geontologies Elizabeth A. Povinelli presents exemplary figures of geontology that are once symptomatic of the late liberal condition and open it onto its own beyond. Her thought-provoking analyses engage political and ontological complexities with an uncommon richness of detail and insight toward a rethinking of cultural politics." — Brian Massumi, author of Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception

"Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s writing remains a continual confrontation with the otherwise. On one hand we have a classical anthropologist totally at home and committed to her field; on the other hand, gone are the attempts to 'capture' and 'explain.' Instead, we have indigenous categories engaging in an exciting intellectual gymnastics with philosophy and theory to help us think our moment: the moment when the nonliving erupts into our spaces, transforming itself from a background to something that makes demands on us." — Ghassan Hage, author of Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth A. Povinelli is Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University and the author of, most recently, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  x

1. The Three Figures of Geontology  1

2. Can Rocks Die? Life and Death inside the Carbon Imaginary  30

3. The Fossils and the Bones  57

4. The Normativity of Creeks  92

5. The Fog of Meaning and the Voiceless Demos  118

6. Downloading the Dreaming  144

7. Late Liberal Geontopower  168

Notes  179

Bibliography  195

Index  209
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Winner, 2017 Lionel Trilling Book Award

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