The Problem of California: Landscapes, Infrastructures, Ecologies


About the Cluster

We have probably all heard the factoid that if California were its own country, it would rank fifth in the world based on gross domestic product. This statistic hides more than it reveals. California is the largest state by population, with more new immigrants arriving in recent years than any other state. It is also the most ecologically diverse, with at least one hundred and fifty different “ecoregions” that scientists group into eight distinct biomes. In addition, it is the most linguistically diverse state, with at least two hundred twenty different languages spoken. In other words, California is a composition stitched together by difference, an uncontainable abstraction even as it is a territory grimly marked by militarized borders. California is a multiplicity, though its diversity is not always self evident. It is both a place and an imaginary that requires urgent and exhaustive explanation.

The purpose of this research cluster is to advance scholarly research that approaches California as a complex problem. Research problematizing the state is vital given the outsized role that certain sectors associated with the state have played as engines of experimentation, innovation, and imagination. From Muir Woods to Hollywood, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley, California has been a path breaker that has helped shape politics and cultural production, both in the United States and across the globe. The rich diversity of the Golden State makes it an especially exciting site for studying the relations between divergent social, economic, cultural, political, and ecological forces. This research cluster will serve as a venue for lively discussion and interrogation of California’s many contradictions, past and present. It is this cluster’s goal to instigate critical discussion and debate around California’s turbulent past, vital present, and uncertain future.

Principal Investigator

Eric Porter, History and History of Consciousness

Faculty and Graduate Student Participants

Lindsey Dillon, Sociology
Madeleine Fairbairn, Environmental Studies
Miriam Greenberg, Sociology
Julie Guthman, Social Sciences Division
Lisbeth Haas, History

Keli Benko, Sociology
Adrian Drummond-Cole, History of Consciousness
Stephen David Engel, History of Consciousness
Noya Kansky, Feminist Studies
Megan Martenyi, Politics
Gabriel Mindel, History of Consciousness
James Sirigotis, Sociology
Vivian Underhill, Feminist Studies