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3- Tonewood Ecopolitics: Forests and Guitars in Fiji - Jose Martinez-Reyes, University of Massachusetts, Boston

1:30 PM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break   03:30 PM to 04:00 PM (30 minutes)
The Gibson Les Paul is one of the most iconic electric guitars ever made. Although there is a vibrant scholarly literature surrounding the Les Paul’s symbolic entanglements with issues of race, gender, and class, few have considered the ecopolitical entanglements involved in producing a key material dimension of that guitar’s signature sound: Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Fiji is one of the main harvesting sites of Honduran mahogany, and this chapter uses a multispecies ethnography to chart the social and environmental transformations that occurred following this wood’s introduction to Fiji in the 1880s, considering especially the increasing demand for mahogany as it has been driven by the popularization of the Les Paul since the mid-twentieth century—an issue which, to this day, continues to define forestry in the region. By examining the global commodity chains and infrastructures underlying Les Paul production (and, as a secondary case study, Taylor acoustic guitars), I focus on the role that Honduran mahogany, or the “White Man’s timber,” as it is called by some locals, has played in reconfiguringFijian landowners’ (iTaukei) definitions of what constitutes a forest, sustainability, and justice. In doing so, the chapter interrogates the power relations and ontological politics in which different actors, species, and things are enmeshed. Using data collected during fieldwork in Fiji (e.g. archives, interviews, newspapers, published reports, participant observation), the presentation builds on Adorno’s notion of the“constellation” of socio-natural relations and Foucault’s biopolitics, with the goal of thinking beyond carbon imaginaries and creating a more intricateglobal political ecology of species and things.
University of Massachusetts Boston
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