Understanding Land-based Psychological Trauma in Light of Epistemic Justice

Recorded on February 8, 2024, this video features a lecture by Dr. Garret Barnwell, South African clinical psychologist and community psychology practitioner. The talk was moderated and coordinated by Andrew Wooyoung Kim, Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at UC Berkeley.

Listen to the talk as a podcast through the player below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


The places we live are inseparably connected to who we are. Our relationship with these spaces we come into being through is somewhat foundational to our knowing and being in the world. They shape who we are, and we, in so many ways, shape them, inscribing them with personal meanings and finding social coordinates in them.

In this talk, Barnwell uses vignettes to describe how this takes place, emphasizing that these bonds are most evidently seen when threatened. Basing his insights on several years of clinical experience and critical psychology theory, he draws attention to how people’s psychological relationship to place is threatened through grievous acts of epistemic injustices — violence directed at knowledge and speech. These forms of epistemic injustice include the silencing, misrecognition, threats, and killings of land defenders, as well as systematized land dispossession in the name of capitalist expansion and mining. Decolonial and critical psychologies teach us that the language we come into being, which privileges certain politics, ways of knowing and being in the world in relation to such places, has a bearing on subjectivity — what can be said and what is unsayable, and, thus, unactionable.

He describes how such forms of epistemic violence threaten these psychological bonds and produce psychological trauma. Around the world in these extractive zones, Indigenous and land-based resurgent movements play a critical role in defending against epistemic injustices for the flourishing of life. In conclusion, Barnwell draws attention to how such resurgent groups use different forms of land dialogues and speech as integral parts of community resistance and psychological healing.

About the Speaker

Dr. Garret Barnwell is a clinical psychologist working as a psychotherapist and community psychology practitioner. He is most interested in different forms of accompaniment and resistance to extractivism for the flourishing of all life. Barnwell was an expert on the landmark youth-led #cancelcoal climate case launched against the South African government’s plans for new coal-fired power. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change Advisory Group. Barnwell’s writing includes several expert reports, special issues, and a book, Terrapsychology: Further Inquiry Into Self, Place and Planet (with Prof Craig Chalquist). He is a research associate at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.


[ANDY KIM] Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Andy Kim. I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology here at UC, Berkeley, and also an honorary researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. And I would like to welcome you to today’s event. Thank you so much for joining.

Today, we have a fantastic speaker, Dr. Garrett Barnwell. And the title of his presentation is Understanding Land-based Psychological Trauma in Light of Epistemic Justice. So I’m also a faculty fellow here for the 2023-2024 academic school year. And I’ve organized both this event and a lecture that will be coming up on March 7, actually my birthday for Dr. Dana-Ain Davis coming from CUNY, New York.

Before I introduce today’s speaker, I just want to highlight a few other events that will be coming up at the Matrix. First, on February 15 is an event called Surveillance and Privacy in a Biometric World, which will take place next Thursday from 4:00 to 5:30. We have a lecture on Black Success and White Backlash by Sociologist Elijah Anderson on the 20th of February. Another lecture on February 22 about Included-Variable Bias and Discrimination by Sharad Goel, Professor of Public Policy. And all these events are online, as well as, other events will be coming up and information on the Matrix website.

So it is now my pleasure to introduce today’s speaker. So Dr. Garrett Barnwell is a Clinical Psychologist working as a Psychotherapist and Community Psychology Practitioner. He’s most interested in different forms of accompaniment and resistance to extractivism for the flourishing of all life. Barnwell was an expert on the landmark youth led hashtag, #CancelCoalClimateCase launched against the South African Government’s plan for new coal-fired power.

He is also a member of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change advisory group. Barnwell’s writings include several expert reports, special issues, and a book called Terrapsychology, Further Inquiry into Self, Place, and Planet co-published with Professor Craig Chalquist. And he is currently a research associate at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

And I just want to remind our online participants to feel free to ask questions throughout the talk and after the talk using the Zoom’s Q&A function. And please welcome me in– please join me in welcoming Dr. Barnwell.

[GARRET BARNWELL] Thanks very much, Andy. And also, thanks for everyone that’s here and the invite, as well as, everyone that’s online. And I’m going to jump straight into it. And if you’ve got questions, I’d love to also hear what’s your thinking behind it. I’m also trying to make sense of some of what I’ll speak about today and any thoughts, ideas, or comments, there’s space to really explore and speak about what interests you.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to go through a bit of my thinking with you today. So the world is at a dangerous crossroads. Our dependence on the extractive resources is pushing the Earth to a new hotter and more barren reality. Climate change is more severe and widespread than previously expected. Disasters such as mass species dials, droughts, and wildfires are occurring at unprecedented levels. Most of the world’s ecosystems upon which life depends have been irreparably harmed.

Nearly 3/4 of the Earth’s surface has been exposed to some form of land degradation according to the IPCC’s 2019 publication on land– sorry, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This destruction is inseparable from a demand for resources that is unsustainable on the Earth which cannot keep pace, lacking the ability to replenish itself annually. In fact, at the moment, it would take almost two earths at this time to do so.

According to the IPCC, climate-related devastation is expected to worsen dramatically over the next two decades. Around the world people, particularly Indigenous land and environmental defenders, and fenceline communities are resisting mining, logging, and industrial agricultural projects in life and death struggles.

These struggles play a crucial role in contesting the ecological catastrophes. Many of these land and ecological justice struggles slow the tide of capitalist extraction around the world. This is not something that’s often spoken about is actually how much do these struggles prevent as well when it comes to carbon output and also the destruction of our planet. How many projects don’t go through because of people on the frontlines of these areas around the world and their struggles.

Even though the IPCC and the IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, acknowledges the significance of Indigenous ecological knowledge for constructing a viable future for humanity. They overlook the extractive conflicts happening in these areas that threaten our planet’s survival.

There’s a devastating cost. The organization Global Witness has been tracking threats against land and environmental defenders since 2012. In just over a decade, more than 1,910 people who were standing up for land and environmental justice issues have been killed.

Out of these at least, 1,390 defenders lost their lives after the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Global Witness and academics such as Mary Manton and Philip Lyon explain with every death in communities resisting extractive industries, there are countless other threats. We see this all around the world in South Africa in particular as well, physical violence, death threats, strategic litigation against public participation. And if anyone wants to ask afterwards, I’ve got very particular examples in the work that I’m doing but also with people that I’m very close to me that have experienced significant threats.

The decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo argues that the lived experience of how coloniality is felt is essential in resisting and delinking from today’s experiences of coloniality. Coloniality is a decolonial concept rooted in Anibal Quijano’s works. Maldanado Tourists explains that coloniality refers to our colonial logic in today’s society conceives and constitutes power and knowledge.

Decolonial theorists use the term coloniality as a shorthand to refer to European Colonialism’s interrelating legacies and practices that underpin the broader arc of modernity. Most land and environmental justice struggles that I’ve encountered are also decolonial struggles and I’ll speak a bit to that today. And they seek to resist coloniality and the ecological exploitation whilst also imagining a better world in the future.

Psychology has not largely neglected such struggles and today I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss the resistance to what I speak of as place-saving, what I’ve described as the psychological process associated with harms than to place attachments, including to ancestral land, the unsettling of traditional ecological knowledge systems, intergenerational identities, and ancestral relationships to place stemming from historical land and ecological injustices in light of the epistemic turn that we see in theory.

I’ll unpack these ideas as I move along and also suggest ways in which social scientists could play a meaningful role in accompanying such struggles through the practice of witnessing and I’ll offer some personal examples.

I believe that social sciences, including here in psychology, can support the transition towards a pluriversal world that centers epistemic justice, an active stance that affirms different ways of knowing and being in the world, and which seeks to build a world free from extractive violence that deems other ways of knowing and being in the world a threat to be annihilated.

Now I’ve drawn a bit of my psychoanalytic background. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan reiterated through his works that we come into being through the language of others. He meant that as speaking beings, the meaning, symbols, and laws that structure our world are inscribed by the language of other people both in our immediate lives and society at large.

What is communicated or withheld, what is allowed or not allowed to be said influences our sense of becoming in the world and shapes our knowledge. For example, when we are born we enter into the language of our parents or our caregivers, those around us, what they name us, they desire for us and what they communicate shapes our understanding of the world and who we become.

The language is interwoven with the broader languages, the norms, the cultural meanings structuring society which Lacan calls the symbolic order. Whether our parents or caregivers recognize us through love, respect, or genuine interest determines how we relate to and enter the symbolic order, as well as, all the enigmatic messages that we encounter that are very difficult at times to translate.

And we can speak about that but including when they’re hostile messages and that difficulty of translating these messages. At these moments Lacanians assert that we encounter a choice of taking on the language of the other.

When we are younger, this choice is false though. Lacan compared it to being robbed, your money or your life. If we do not take on this language, we may not survive. For instance, we must communicate to meet our needs and to adapt to and thrive within a world already structured by language. Taking on this language can be seen as a life affirming act because if we do not, we can put ourselves in radical opposition to the symbolic order or society at large.

However, in taking on this language of the other, we undergo an alienating process where aspects of ourselves that are beyond language and at times in close attunement with more than human world can become alienated. This is because our relationship with the corporeality of the material world can never be fully articulated within language.

The language we come into being into inscribes the world with particular meanings that give us social coordinates. For example, in relationship to the more than human world, some animals are given particular privileges in the process of naming. For instance, in Western capitalist society, for instance, cows are something deemed as livestock, source of protein, dairy products, leather, and not much more than this usefulness to become a kind of product or commodity.

However, in other cultures, like in South Africa, a cow is sacred, something to be revered and representative of wealth, masculinity, and ancestral connections. We can go on with these comparisons for days. Importantly, through this process, we become split subjects whose unconscious is ordered by society’s ideals, demands, and desires. Also being alienated within this existence due to the indescribable losses we suffer, as well as, living with very complex ungraspable, unsayable aspects of our being that connect us to all life on this planet.

In her article “The Trauma of Language,” Lucy Canton describes this process as potentially traumatic as we encounter a range of enigmatic messages from society privileging certain ways of being over others that need to be translated in some meaningful way for survival.

An example I can share is from South Africa where the former colonial apartheid regime, Privileged Whites, while systemically oppressing Black people and other People of Color coming into being through apartheid as a symbolic order was violent, as it deemed Black people and People of Color a threat to be annihilated, to be materially deprived and underserved.

This was also dispossessing communities of land to gain access to mineral and agricultural riches, simultaneously, exploiting Black and Brown bodies for Labor for the Construction of a racist white society. Although in South Africa, apartheid has been dismantled, these colonial logics still operate and shape people’s encounters with extractive industries today and you’ll hear many people speak about extractive industries as the new kind of colonial outposts in the global South.

Much of the experience of land-based trauma or what I refer to as place severing is part of this larger arc of colonial capitalism. All the varying but globally networked systems of labor, financial flows, and conceptions of property that constituted colonial economies. I would just like to share an image– [CHUCKLES] –an image that represents this kind of myth.

So extractivism as a specific mindset and set of actions aimed at maximizing gains through the extraction of resources was a key facet of colonial capitalism under the rubric of modernity. Coloniality names the narrative fiction and violent rhetoric that posits that there is one progressive Euro-American-centric pathway in history.

According to this myth, following a different development path would deem such communities inferior, underdeveloped, or primitive. This is not the case but the energy behind this violent rhetoric is powerful and has threatened Indigenous peoples over centuries. This myth of progress also sanctions extractive projects without informed consent under the guise of development agendas or at worst, the militarism of just wars.

Central to the structural violence of coloniality is also the epistemic mark of the colonial deference which argues that Eurocentric knowledge, practices, and modes of being are superior to other lifeworlds deeming the latter invisible, inferior, or threat to accumulate privileges and progress.

Mignolo and Walsh write that there is named this Eurocentric logic after the locus of enunciation where it’s been spoken from, naming the territorial, institutional, economic, and linguistic locations of historical actors who believe their way of being is the only correct way of engaging with others in the more than human world.

According to Walter Mignolo, Eurocentrism is historically grounded in Christian conceptions and images of the world that claim the totality of truth and proclaim what is good and evil. There’s a kind of judgment that’s projected onto other life worlds.

For instance, in South Africa and the world over, Christian evangelizing missions facilitated colonialism’s expansion by violently unsettling Indigenous ecological knowledge and social bonds to place. Thus, Indigenous peoples’ epistemic territories where knowledge is created in relationship to place and intergenerationally constituted are devalued, diminished, or harmed.

For example, in the Limpopo province of South Africa in the Northern region, some groups of people are reconstituting their relationship to sacred sites such as forests, waterfalls, and lakes. For instance, this Lake Fundudzi is seen as a sacred site that holds so much that we can speak about afterwards.

But years of colonial and apartheid-era violence has structured relationships. So for instance, at the time of not so long ago– not so long ago, rituals were conducted at these sites. People were basically told that they couldn’t pray at these sites anymore, couldn’t conduct rituals, and that this had to be done within a church, therefore severing the relationship to these places but also creating the pathway for resource extraction in the Forestry Industry in this area.

So this connection paved the way for colonial agricultural economy being established and the epistemic mark not only on people who have relationship to these sites but these sites themselves and the associated practices caused severing took place and facilitated the expansion of logging and the forestry industry.

And I’ll provide an example, a beekeeper I spoke to offered a testimony of this experience in which he described how his family was forcibly resettled from their ancestral lands to allow for logging and also, their resistance to this. So I’ll read you the testimony now.

It’s from a beekeeper I interviewed in one of these processes of free collection. “They came and collected the soil and took it to Pretoria, the capital. They used to dig it out at different places. They then started to plow the pine trees from Macumbani to Macorani, to [INAUDIBLE] to Jieni. Further and further, the people started to work here, Macumbani, around the community. 24, 25, 26, 27, takes more than 27 years for a pine tree to be cut down. At the age of 15 to 20 years, they just come and select the beautiful ones and cut down the bad ones. At 27 years, they take them away to the factories.

I used to live here in the bush with my father and my family but we were chased away so that they could plant the pine trees. Pine trees aren’t indigenous to South Africa as well. Three times the evictions from my ancestral land were common under the apartheid regime. My father didn’t leave but all the people around us did. My father used to take the thorn trees and put the branches around the house to protect us so the White people couldn’t enter the yard.

They chased people in June, July, and August but my father never left. Each day we saw three white people coming to our yard. One day I was playing around the house, they said, where’s your father, you go call him. They said to my father, why didn’t you leave when others were leaving? His father replied, I wanted to plow the maize here. They told him that he has to go to Bapedi area where one of the other sacred sites are, which is a waterfall.

It was between 1949 and ’50, my father was angry. I was hurting inside. This used to be a beautiful place he looked out over the plantation,” the term we use in South Africa, which I know has different connotations here but I also think that there’s some similarities while we spoke.

“The cows even used to roam here eating, [INAUDIBLE] clean water, most rivers have dried up or have been contaminated by chemicals used on the plantations. We tried to remove the pines but we couldn’t. It was the South African government, the apartheid regime. When they first came, they started removing all the trees and plants. People were chased away and left their dogs and cats. People’s homes were destroyed. We tried to feed them but there were too many of them they were walking around scavenging, lost. They had to be culled.

The animals that were here also didn’t have homes. They were killed and hunted by the people who came. They, the White man, killed up to seven impalas a day, deers. During this ecocide, over 4,300 hectares of Indigenous forests were destroyed.” Many social ecologies around the world are at the frontline of this extractive worldview.

This colonizing way of being in the world is essentially a White Supremacist ideology as it seeks to disconnect people from land, dispiriting connections with the more than human world for accumulating wealth. The extractive ideology is by nature an anti-Black and anti-Indigenous epistemology. Because the Black Indigenous subject dispossessed from land is in constant struggle to retain centrality of spirituality, knowledge, power, and being as modern auditors writes.

“Thus, epistemic violence names the swarm of harm to the epistemic territory, the place of different ways of knowing it, and in turn being that is produced through coloniality,” writes also Reynaldo Vasquez.

Critical community psychologist Gorse Stephens and Christopher Son assert assert that such epistemic violence is central to the experience of psychological distress in the world today. This is not an abstract matter. Social orders driven by the logic of coloniality have historically relied on land grabs predicated upon the erasure of these historical bonds to land to ensure domination and economic exploitation.

As under colonialism, extractive proponents today still largely make the rules. They help develop weak environmental regulatory frameworks. For instance, at other times, they spearhead deals for extractive projects in the name of development and progress but that often neglects the right to participation and self-determination for affected communities.

Today, capitalism is reproduced in the same colonist racist logic that deemed much of the world’s population living on the margins expendable. This particular [INAUDIBLE] points of extraction where United Nations Special Rapporteur David Boyd says, “communities are transformed into sacrifice zones where environmental degradation, pollution, and unjust social arrangements pose extreme threats to well-being.”

Psychology has played a perverse role in the broader process of conceptualizing such distress. For instance, in using terms such as climate anxiety or eco-anxiety to describe ecological distress, mainstream psychology risks pathologizing and individualizing distress resulting from the violence of capitalism and its underpinning colonial logic.

Historically, in placing the responsibility for distress on an individual’s intrapsychic reality or at most, on the family, psychology conceals how capitalism operates and the society’s societal suffering at large. It also disconnects the consumer from sites of struggle or the fact that we consume suffering to draw on an idea from Reynaldo Vasquez. Yet suffering does not circulate through our lives and relationships as some passive response to anxieties about these crises.

Rather, these anxieties arise from my experience with alienation, marginalization, and exclusion in society that stems from ways of privileging capitalism, including extractivism, that destroys ways of life and societal bonds.

Today, although most colonial administrations have been dismantled, extractivism remains pervasive. Whether enacted through states or corporations they support, life within this logic, as Vandana Shiva explains, is treated like an open access system to be exploited without consent where local ways of being in the world, such as the sense of community, as well as, sovereignty and public participation are not only undermined but seen as critical points to exert power.

As a consequence, civic space is critically endangered. Civic space is defined as the ability to organize, communicate, and participate meaningfully without hindrance or threat of harm. Capitalism presents a similar choice in the establishment and expansion of mining in communities through the guise of public participatory processes.

Whereof late, communities have the right to say no to mining, yet do they really? Some people are placed in impossible choice, your money or your life. For instance, in one of the areas where I’ve worked, land defenders who receive death threats because of resisting mining take on these risks as they still have deep spiritual connections to their ancestors and grave sites. Traditional beliefs come up against the desire to extract at all costs.

In this situation, one of the herders that I spoke with described, high was making a terrible choice in taking what the mine had financially offered him to mine his ancestral land. “I would rather deal with the pain of exhuming my family members’ bodies, even though I would not want to, rather than placing the rest of the family at risk of being killed,” he said.

We know in these sites, so in one of the places where I’ve also collected testimony, environmental defenders have been killed or had their homes shot up in these areas. Such terrible choices are common. They are also reflected in public participatory processes that are similarly structured by coloniality, a language that stifles open communication and closes down speech or let me say, promotes empty speech.

Lacan differentiates between empty and full speech. “To simplify, empty speech is devoid of the subject’s knowledge, such as when they are being talked to rather than being heard. In contrast, full speech recognizes the subject’s knowledge concerning the symbolic order providing people with a set of sociosymbolic coordinates which tie them to the roles and other social contracts.

Therefore, closing down public participatory spaces is a form of empty speech as it consolidates the egoic nature of capitalism while disregarding other ways of being in the world, as well as, life-affirming social ties and meaningful roles in public participatory processes.”

Communities who cannot speak freely, remain unheard are not presented with hard life or death choices, your money or your life. The freedom to speak is constrained to a point that are artificial discourses and defended subjectivity is created where there is no movement to speak openly about the internal contradictions, the anxieties about choices being made as well.

Such a process does not support rhythms of change that are normal in relationships where there are true social bonds and high stakes for the future. I would go so far as saying that the public participatory processes are in support of a consensus for business as usual. The ability to say yes or no to large-scale development projects is dispossessed through insidious acts of closing down speech.

For instance, the discussions that I’ve witnessed often focus on the measurable impacts of mining, such as the relocation of communities to avoid exposure rather than what Skosana refers to as the intangible losses, such as the loss of ancestral connections to place and the meanings inscribed in homesteads, as well as, the relocation of graves.

As I’ve said, those who speak of Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world often labeled as anti-development and backward, and consequently silenced as a threat. Participation is closed down through labeling as well as excluding specific topics, misrecognizing discussed issues, the exclusion in report writing, and coercion such as targeting and killings. To emphasize again, people are killed on a frequent basis.

It’s important to emphasize that these processes of coming into being through the others language, here the language of extractivism, can be traumatizing. By entering into the other’s language, something is always left behind that cannot be entirely spoken and doesn’t quite fit within the other’s language or desires.

I would argue that this loss can be insurmountable depending on what language is taken up, what is privileged, and what is not. The desire of the other can be brutal as fenceline communities resisting mining around the world know well. Taking on the language presented in public participatory processes guarantees irreparable alienation from one’s knowing and being in the world.

Coming to the other’s language leads to the clearing of Indigenous vegetation, displacing peoples from their ancestral land, and severing the psychological relationship to place, a traumatic process in itself. In summary, the closing down of civic spaces allows extractivism to create conditions where residents who might organize, communicate, and seek meaningful participation to oppose extractivism are deemed a threat being labeled a threat into an sanctioned silence, exclusion, and physical violence.

This contributes to the one ton approval of deleterious mining and logging projects and the murder of land and environmental defenders and other human rights violations. These subjugating acts, the closed down civic space may in turn create significant anguish among those who resist not by choice but because of their very locality.

For many around the world, it’s not climate change as some abstract weather occurrence that is distressing, but rather the grating up against colonial capitalism in one’s daily life. Our pain indicates to us that there’s something wrong with capitalism and the colonial world order that seeks to repress difference in being and world views.

Land and environmental defenders resisting mining often engage in these struggles. These struggles are rooted in communities’ intangible cultural and social fabric, including the connection to land, their traditions, and identity as people, as well as, desired futures and ancestral connections.

For instance, in Limpopo, “Dzomo la Mupo” meaning The Voice of Creation is a woman-led struggle focusing on restoring Indigenous plants and Indigenous seed sovereignty, while re-membering communities to place in cultural resurgence.

So for instance, these are traditional seeds that are used to create Indigenous or different types of beers that are used in rituals at the sacred sites. These are Indigenous tree nurseries that are used to re-establish buffer zones around sacred sites that still remain despite the logging and forestry in the region.

At the same, it’s another photo of a different family. So there’s different families in the area and members will have these tree nurseries basically to do restoration projects. And I can speak more to this afterwards. And then so there’s the restoration efforts and the re-membering efforts that create– well, I’ll speak about it later. But re-member communities to place in these sacred sites after the experience of severing.

And then there’s also considerable efforts placed on gaining recognition of these sacred sites. So in challenging the colonial limits that still largely guide the protection of cultural sites, one of these challenges is to make sacred sites no-go areas to retain their sanctity. Because in turn, also the protection of these sites often also through the language of coloniality or capitalism where sacred sites, if they’re protected or deemed tourist sites and seen then as a way to make money rather than restoring the sanctity in itself where some of these places should be no-go areas. Additionally, much efforts are being placed to recollect the mutual relationship with places through self-organized processes called ecomapping where Dzomo la Mupo members walk through areas following rivers, Indigenous forests, and recount what was there. Their names, meanings and value, as well as, how they structured their symbolic order. This is thanks to the work of Mphatheleni Makaulule, a social healer who has spearheaded the cultural resurgence in mutual accompaniment with elders, women, youth, and other Dzomo la Mupo members from different villages in Limpopo.

The process is a kind of recollective process that breaks from the illusion of a progressiveness myth of coloniality. Consequently, this process separates people from their ensnarement into this myth of extractive desires. This process brings on the fall of the other through encounter with its lack, or its been alienated when coming into being through the others language that ignites new possibilities.

Part of this process helps reconstitute indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world and imagine what can be resisted and co-created in South Africa’s postcolonial society, or perhaps more accurately speaking of the work is the creation of a world within many worlds as the supertasters say.

Nevertheless, an extractive industries are unrelenting and much effort is also directed at resisting new traditions through lobbying local leaders and actively attending public participatory processes. For instance, alternative spaces are created to map out the impacts of proposed industrial projects and the broader community to ensure that there are spaces where speech is not closed down.

So for instance, this photograph here is not only of this process of ecological mapping where people will walk sites to re-member and re-member themselves into the communities where they live. But these are also meetings that are created and sites of dialogue alongside public participatory processes that the mines organize to have projects approved.

So for instance, this kind of alternative mapping would be used then by legal organizations to feed into the process to ensure that these voices that are very often on the margins of the public participatory processes have an opportunity to speak.

Other kind of forms of accompaniment that take place also in relationship to media. So for instance, not only with legal organizations or issues brought to the fore, but also these proposed mining projects communities would often work with local media to bring the issues to the fore.

So those who are effectively resisting often do so for their well-being in their community and find strength hope and meaning in these solidarities.

As a community psychology practitioner, I recognize the importance of strategically witnessing and accompanying such struggles and would like to share a few personal examples. In my life, I’m approached by communities and others accompanying such struggles, such as legal organizations to document the impacts of mining.

My practice in the process of documentation and participation is always consensual. For example, I’ve worked with communities in South Africa’s Limpopo province witnessing their psychological relationship to place. And this significance of indigenous knowledge systems and solid psychological connections to place and identity despite historical land dispossessions that have taken place.

So for instance, in this process, I was invited to witness this process and to also walk alongside as these histories were documented to also feed these reports into the actual public participatory processes so there’s some kind of witnessing alongside with also community reports that were created from the ground up.

These processes of witnessing were also used in some of the legal cases or the legal arguments that were put forward to bring light to also how voices were being closed down for instance in the reports. What I do is not only witness the attachment to place, but also how in the process of public participation people are kept out of the process.

So for instance, through the securitization of public participatory processes. So the stopping people from attending these meetings, or the threats against environmental defenders, and so forth. So for instance, I have documented the violent process and psychological consequences of the dislocation from these ancestral lands to allow for the development of open-cast coal mines in South Africa province in Kwazulu-Natal as well.

So for instance, so this was in Limpopo. Another area where I’ve done work has been in Kwazulu-Natal, this is before on the left of a village, and afterwards very tangible kind of splintering of not any a splintering of the village but a complete wiping out of the community. And legal organizations as well as these kind of documentation process often bring to light. Very real processes of annihilation.

Some of the things that I do afterwards is recollect people’s experiences of these processes, but also what’s happening at the current moment in communities. So the very real experiences of environmental contamination. For instance, these photographs on the left is someone’s house, the infiltration and insidious infiltration of coal dust in one’s life.

And on the right-hand side, that’s a JoJo tank. So for instance, there’s no running water in some of these communities since mining has taken place and people rely on rainwater, then that’s stored. But also this rainwater is contaminated by coal dust. And I can go into this more but there’s reports that of ongoing process to document these and they’re are being used to also advocate for better conditions.

My process varies, but what is essential is the act of witnessing. Whereby, I listen to people’s experiences, particularly those that have been often silenced in this kind of process of public participation where there has or hasn’t been any. I usually begin by walking the land with them, listening to their stories, and recognizing the significance of these indigenous knowledges so that it can be better understood in the struggles and the depth of the impacts of mining have on people’s lives.

Often take photographs like these to show the relationship with place. For example, this image is a picture that’s been drawn by the indigenous beekeeper that I shared the testimony of before, mapping his connection between his identity, the relationship that he has with bees, and the ancestral obligations that he has as a healer.

The process centers on the psychological connection to place and may to some extent counter the pain and trauma of being forced into the language of others, seeks to witness what is often being alienated in the process. In addition, we discussed the process of adopting the language used in public participatory processes. So mapping out also what are people’s experiences of not being able to speak about what does their relationship to place mean.

Also, inquire about any threats encountered during such processes, whether directly meetings or perceived to be associated with broader process. I’ve come to recognize through these testimonies of others that the language and procedures used in these processes often prevent voices of communities from being heard must recognizing and silencing them. Incidents often involved extreme acts of silencing, such as acts of aggression and killings outside of meetings.

These situations are again examples of empty speech. To counter them, I pay close attention and document the engagement of this lack of subjectivity in the processes and interactions with mines. I formulate what is spoken into a report, which is then utilized by community through legal organizations representing them all through their own emergent processes.

As accompanying witness, my role is to give community members space to speak and find ways in which they can be application of voice, if any, that’s also a choice. There’s sometimes no need for any witnessing. For example, my report to act as evidence to support people’s resistance and challenge power structures, such as through advocacy.

Finally, the witnessing processes may empower community members to speak openly about the potential impacts of mining on their lives and future by recognizing the potential benefits as well as the intangible losses and compromises that would be made that can express the desire choice grounded in values sense of identity or vision for the future without the extreme pressures placed on themselves in these public participatory processes.

The end goal may be saying yes to mining, the end goal may be saying no. But the point here is that often in these processes the choice is closed on allowing person to speak freely and voiding closing down speech by asserting bias of opinion or desired outcome is crucial. As the act of listening and documenting brings to light, what is not permitted or misrepresented through these processes.

To ensure the contextual validity of my writing before the reports are released, I may gather with those who participated in the process. For example, the image above shows just one of the groups where we work through the kind of writing and we go line by line to see what can be said and what is unsayable.

So for instance, sometimes I’ll remove certain things as indigenous knowledge that cannot be in the public. And that’s also important process in itself as a researcher that not all knowledge is to be shared contrary I think to what we think is researchers.

I see consent for any information to be included in reports, where reports are offer recommendations. I also ask members who participate in the process to formulate their own recommendations– what do they want from the reports, what do they want in their own expertise.

In feeding back, I’ve been told as well that through this process, people often felt seen instead of the silence or exclusion that they felt before. [INAUDIBLE] fixed on reports use, even though I’m often, for instance, with legal organizations often asked to report on a particular thing. So for instance, the traumatic aspects that don’t recognize other experiences, but where I’ve given more freedom in the process.

So, my own documentation often just allow the reports to be in hand them over. So for instance, I was contacted once by a chief who said he was using the report as a formal process of land restitution. I believe such witnessing can amount to an act of full speech, which explains which forms the truth, such as it becomes established in the recognition of one person by another.

I believe that such approach is rooted in decolonial and psychoanalytic and analytic knowledge are critical to resisting capitalism and preventing further estrangement from the more than human world. As social scientists, we must be more active in documenting the psychopolitical threats to civic space and in strategizing together ways of resisting them and promoting other ways of being in the world, instead of perpetuating extractive dynamics, such as the traumatic process of land dispossession.

So I’ve described, a practices could be connected to community struggles and feed into processes that contest power. In an age where people are fighting for a viable future on this planet, gone is the luxury of being a neutral observer. In our reorientation, we can also learn from indigenous studies, decolonial theory, and radical psychologies to find new languages and ideas to name and contest colonial capitalism tactics, including the misuse and abuse of intimate lives.

Most importantly, we should be led by those resisting and asserting other ways of knowing and being in the world.

And that’s it. So, thank you for that. And instead of sharing my own context, which can be people can reach the Social Science Matrix and gain access to them. I’d like to share the website of Dzomo la Mupo if you’d like to find out more about their work. It’s very interesting. And the dollar goes a long way as well.

So maybe also just as I close, want to say thank you very much. And something that has stood out to me in the discussions that we had before, I had some time to kill and it was quite a privilege because I went to the art department just to go and walk around in it. And I saw a beautiful image by a first year MFA student– Jasmine Nyende

And I see this kind of theme everywhere, and she had a very nice vinyl piece of art called the Seeds of Resistance. And in her work, she wrote, the grief brought on the rain, the soil took it and made it fresh again.

And another image that stands out to me that we were speaking about earlier is as I was parking– I actually parked off campus, I can go to Moe’s and I looked at People’s Park and the kind of militarization around People’s Park and I know it’s a very contested issue on Berkeley campus. And then I think a lot of what we’re speaking about today about public participation and civic space is really important.

So also the new anti-poor policies that are emerging in California. And also the experiences of psychosis in the city. And how very often this connection with place is so important and often overlooked and what does that mean for subjectivity in the city. So, thanks very much, and I appreciate the time.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Yeah, thank you.

I really like the point that you brought up about pathologizing like humans, just in general, looking at– for example, mental health and looking at people in terms of what’s wrong with them. And instead maybe being, well, what are the external factors that are leading to this? I don’t think it’s widely talked about, but I have seen different videos and different academics address that.

What are the effects of capitalism on– for example, Gen Z? For example, it’s this idea of I don’t dream of labor. I dream of a life. I want to live and I want to do different things beyond just working a 9:00 to 5:00 job. Just working until I retire and hopefully I get up for one– like, all these different things, these factors which are needed in order to survive in this capitalistic society.

And then I was thinking about some of the stuff that you were saying about community and disengaging it from– it’s almost original intent. I grew up in Mexico. And one thing that I’ve noticed in the US, not so much in the Bay Area necessarily, but for example, undergraduate I went to UCLA and spaces– common spaces. You go to Westwood which is like the college town of UCLA, there’s really no place to gather.

There’s no bar– I mean, there’s bars, but the places are like disengaged. It’s really weird. There’s no real sense of community. And I’ve noticed in the US in general, common spaces don’t really feel that used, it doesn’t feel like people are– I don’t know how to explain it– like they’re not living in that place so much.

You go to a park in Mexico, for example, in Mexico City, people are doing Zumba at 6:00 PM, or people are eating tacos, or people are talking, people are socializing. Like, there’s a need for that space. And here sometimes maybe I’m making a real broad generalization, but sometimes it feels like it’s so disconnected.

People just don’t really engage with that. Or even something as simple as going to a job and all this and having a lunch break, maybe it doesn’t happen so much in academia. But let’s say a minimum wage job. You say, OK, I’m going to go take my lunch break. It’s disconnected. You don’t go take your lunch break– maybe you might, but typically, you might not take it with your coworkers.

Whereas in Mexico, lunch break is a big thing. You take an hour, you go out to your favorite taco stand, everyone talks. I don’t know how to say it, like there’s more engagement with people. And I’ve noticed here in the US and maybe in general with capitalistic societies, it’s there’s a little bit of a distance between humans, like us in general. I know, sorry that was so long winded, but yeah.

[GARRET BARNWELL] No, I really appreciate that comment. And as an outsider, I’m not an American. You can probably hear with my accent. [LAUGHS] Yeah, and I experienced that in some way as well. And Lacon speaks about the social bond. Being this really important part that of who we are.

And I think that’s what’s quite nice about the case of Dzomo la Mupo is the reconstitution of that social bond. How do we reconstitute it in these different spaces despite the kind of places where we find ourselves in, as people who aren’t from necessarily the place where we are now. And yeah, and what are these other spaces that we able to create and dream of?

And yeah, so I appreciate that comment. Very much. I had a thought but I’m going to compliment. I’ll come back to it. Appreciate that.

Yeah. And also that there’s an active kind of severing of that social bond as well that is very often quite insidious. So in public participatory processes, for instance, is there really the option of that the creation of that social bond is as I understand the social spaces that would be really to create some sense of social contract. What does it mean for me in the establishment of a new project in my community?

And that’s often closed down. So, yeah, really, really interesting. Cool.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you very much, Dr. Barnwell. I have two questions for you.


So, I’m curious to know just around the question of, what it means to heal based on the understandings of your interlocutors? And how your interlocutors have defined their sense of indigenous healing? And what it looks like for them to enact their own personal understandings of healing outside of the necessity to require recognition by these hegemonic institutions?

And we talk a lot about the effects of the language of the other. But when people are trying to heal on their own terms, what does the language of the self or the language of the greater look like in these conversations that you’ve had? And then the second is with regards to just a more– I guess methodological question around the use of psychoanalytic theory.

So, I’m curious to know– I know, I mean, obviously we’ve engaged a lot on your work and that you have a keen interest in psychoanalysis. And I’m curious to know based on your training and also the different dynamics that are going on within this place religious, economic, political, historical, what psychoanalysis offers in trying to understand these dynamics of historical trauma and recognition?

And if there are limitations, especially when you engage with these worldviews that are grounded in indigenous epistemologies or especially understandings of ancestral cosmology as well. So, yeah. What does psychoanalysis afford? And if you’ve seen its limitations, especially when you engage with contexts that– presumably outside of psychoanalytic thought? If at all, thanks.

[GARRET BARNWELL] Yeah, really good questions. I’ll start with loss when– first, so just in terms of methodology, there’s so much that’s actually challenging. So, I would say there’s often a use– it depends on what space and who you’re speaking to. So for instance, in the legal process, what’s hard is that you often have to speak a very clinical language.

So the screeners and stuff– so quantifying things to a certain extent. So with the work, with legal organizations would be using a screener because there needs to be in some way measured. Thank goodness that the impacts of land dispossession are very measurable because the key feature of post-traumatic stress that I didn’t speak about in this presentation is. It can be experienced directly, witnessed, or heard of. So that’s the criteria for it.

And it would be a horror, a kind of physical violence or horror. So with the experience of land dispossession, what we’re speaking about just that testimony alone meets the criteria for it. But in that sense, I have to speak the clinical language and make it translatable. There’s this issue of translatability for the court or for that really speaks to a very biomedical language.

So, and that’s– I think in some ways strategic. And maybe this speaks to the other question where there is also the use of language. It’s not a completely a separate way of relating to language, but there is also a very strategic use of speaking the language of public participation.

So, a lot of what is done is there’ll be– so for instance with like both these case in Kwazulu-Natal, the resisting of coal mining versus the first recollective process that we’ll be using the language of human rights, for instance. There will be teachings as such. And thank goodness to South Africa.

And you know, what interesting with the work in California on the historical impacts of colonialism here? There’s very progressive language around human rights, the intergenerationality of it as well so. And then we’re talking about a postcolonial setting as well, where you can’t– it’s not– what’s the word– atavistic, where the gaze of the colonial others to in some way crystallize the image in the past.

What we’re talking about is really progressive struggles, which are very integrated. And maybe I’m speaking quite abstractly, but there is also the melding of different kind of ways of being in the world, that the escapes that gaze, yet there’s a use of it as well at times and there’s a tension there.

What was so surprising for me as well was– like working with Dzomo la Mupo, for instance, is the discussions that happen behind the scenes, with Mphatheleni, for instance, she was teaching me about psychology, and teaching me about what’s in the forefront of thoughts in psychology, and this kind of place attachment and stuff like that. So, I think that there’s not so much of a dichotomous kind of knowledge, there’s actually a very productive space where thing.

And then there’s very serious limitations in psychoanalysis and psychology as well to describe different experiences. And I need more time to think about that but I think what is productive is using what we have. And the nice thing is in psychoanalysis, this knowledge that comes from these different spaces.

So, thinking about Frantz Fanon, thinking about liberation psychology that comes from Latin America , where there is very interesting people that are doing really important things where they are looking– they’re not– like, I’m looking at Lacan that there’s people that are doing very interesting things coming at psychoanalysis. Reading Lacan through Fanon.

So not approaching decolonial theory through Lacan, which– I don’t know– I’m speaking about abstractly. But I think it matters where you also speak from that locus of enunciation. And yeah, so who you cite.

Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much for the opportunity.



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