Notes on Slow Violence by Rob Nixon


Perhaps it is because of Rob Nixon’s background in environmental justice and the humanities that influenced him to explore what he terms slow violence through rethinking the political, imaginative and theoretical dimensions of this form of violence. Nixon defines slow violence as a “violence that occurs gradually and out of sight; a delayed destruction often dispersed across time and space.”[1]

“Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor” engages the representational, narrative, and strategic challenges posed by the invisibility of slow violence. Characterizing slow violence is the “long dyings”- staggered, dispensable casualties both human and ecological which carry the weight of trauma and degradation but lack the political salience needed to afford significant outrage.[2] Nixon wastes no time in providing the reader with an example of actions emblematic of slow violence, the quote preceding the introduction is a compelling, yet disturbing account by Lawrence Summers, former president of the World Bank advocating the dumping of toxic waste into countries in Africa considered “least developed.” Nixon points out that Summers advocating toxic waste dumping into certain countries in Africa and not invading with weapons of mass destruction ensure that Summers suggestion would not be considered a conventional form of violence.[3] Nixon explains the difficulty of amplifying the effects of slow violence are among the most “critical challenges of our time.”[4]

“Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor” takes on the challenge of amplifying the degrading effects of slow violence by highlighting the voices of writer/activists from around the world who engage a variety of discursive forms. A common thread among the writers Nixon engages are  lived experiences within or adjacent to corrosive transnational forces, antihuman conservation practices, neocolonial tourism, among others. Writers such a Wangari Maathi, Arundhati Roy, June Jordan, and Jamaica Kincaid give “imaginative definition to the issues at stake.”[5]

Nixon’s contribution to the field of environmental studies and justice are much needed. Synthesizing environmental degradation, political suppression of environmental justice, and diverse writers witnessing these things, “Slow Violence” opens up a new way to address environmental studies that seek to redress the wrongs of slow violence.



[1] Rob Nixon, Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).2

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid, 3.

[5] Ibid, 6

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