Stupid Little Fish: Extraction, Conservation, and the Politics of Environmental Decline


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project is a book-length study of the case of the Delta Smelt, a small endangered species of fish caught in the center of California’s so-called “water wars” that subsequently became enrolled in the USA’s partisan culture wars. Drawing on rich historical and ethnographic evidence, and systematically analyzed media data, the project “follows the fish” through the (often ironic) entanglements of extractive infrastructure, science, law, electoral politics, and the public sphere. It offers a new theoretical framework for analyzing conflicts over natural resources that centers on how attempts to control and define nature originating in one domain of social life overflow into others, triggering a chain of subsequent interventions that shape the terms of future environmental conflict.