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February 19, 2020
2:00pm to 4:00pm
Haines 352

UCLA Department of Anthropology Presents
A President’s Post-Doc Preview Presentation Given By
Dr. Kali Rubaii

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 starting at 2 p.m.
Haines Hall, Room 352

Today is Better than Tomorrow: Repair and Toxicity in Iraq

What is most violating about military environmental manipulation is not the initial shock of damage,
but rather the incapacitation of recovery from that shock. In Iraq, the US military introduced less-than-lethal
counterinsurgency tactics to subdue populations not only at gunpoint, but also along the soft contours of everyday
bodies; through the frequencies of mass emotion; and in the arrangements of living and life-giving
relations among humans, plants, animals, and artifacts of war. Such militarized arrangements were made
toxic, meaning they endure only via antagonistic, unworkable, and disruptive relations that incapacitate
thriving. Here, war is visible as an ongoing toxic structure rather than as an event with an aftermath.
During ethnographic fieldwork in 2014 and 2015 with Anbari families in Iraq, I learned that social
and environmental antagonism is not only a barrier to survival; it is also a route. Amidst irreparable damage,
Iraqi projects of repair are no longer efforts to restore things to a former, non-toxic condition. Instead, repair
is a mode of survival that embraces undesirable outcomes as a core feature of endurance. When “today is
better than tomorrow,” repair makes no gesture toward a hopeful future or a nostalgic past. Rather, it rearranges
the ethical stakes of living and dying, right now. Through glimpses at how doctors and parents treat
babies’ birth defects, and how farmers remediate their land, this talk foregrounds the theories of Iraqis who
are cultivating a politics of biomedical, social and ecological repair in the face of bleak prospects.

Dr. Kali Rubaii is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology
at UC Davis, and holds a joint appointment with Purdue University as an assistant professor. She is a cultural
anthropologist who studies the materiality of structural violence, especially ecological arrangements between
living and nonliving things. Her purpose is to sharpen resistance strategies that target the vulnerable
nexus between coercive power and the physical world. Her most recent project explores the environmental
impacts of less-than-lethal counterinsurgency in Iraq. Her book project, Counter-resurgency: The Ecology of
Coercion, examines how displaced Anbari farmers in Iraq survive war-made landscapes designed to preclude
possibilities for organized resistance. Working through five modes of coercion (preemption, divideand-
conquer, suspense, abstraction, and counter-resurgence), this ethnography follows militarized relations
among humans, ghosts, plants, animals and molecular agents. Her next project approaches the joint corporate-
military enterprise of cement production in post-invasion Iraq, and how the cement industry enforces
global regimes of race, class, and extraction.