Appointed As

Institute for Research in the Humanities


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of Wisconsin-Madison

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Geography and Environment, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Dissertation Abstract

"Kahoʻolawe Is Not An Island: Political-Ecological Assemblages, Spaces of Indigenous (Re)Emergence, and the Logic of Counterinsurgency"

How and why people resist at certain moments, under what conditions they are able to succeed, how movements gestate, emerge, and spread, and what reactions and changes they provoke are perennial concerns for social scientists. They have important implications for civic engagement as well as policy making. This dissertation contributes to understanding these questions through the case study of an important indigenous social movement in Hawaiʻi. These contributions will be of interest to scholars of militarization, decolonization, settler-colonialism, political ecology, counterinsurgency, social movements, and indigenous politics, as well as indigenous and environmental activists and cultural practitioners.
"Kahoʻolawe Is Not An Island: Political-Ecological Assemblages, Spaces of Indigenous
(Re)Emergence, and the Logic of Counterinsurgency" critically examines (1) how the struggle by Kanaka ʻŌiwi activists to stop U.S. military training activities on Kahoʻolawe became a vibrant and effective social movement for indigenous land recovery, cultural revival, and sovereignty at a particular historical conjuncture, and (2) how that social movement transformed the political, economic, environmental, and cultural milieu in Hawaiʻi.
This dissertation argues that the emergence of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana (PKO)—the Kanaka ʻŌiwi social movement responsible for ending military use of Kahoʻolawe—was a historically significant event which profoundly transformed the cultural and political landscape of Hawaiʻi and recast the military's power in relation to the administration of environmental and indigenous cultural resources. Staging a conversation between the theoretical framework of assemblages—open and dynamic arrangements of heterogenous and autonomous components which form provisional wholes with emergent agential capacities—and kīpuka aloha ʻāina—spaces of Kanaka ʻŌiwi political and cultural (re)emergence—this study finds that the confluence of multiple factors at a particular place and historical moment produced conditions of possibility for the transgressive actions of the PKO to catalyze a new Kanaka ʻŌiwi movement.
This dissertation traces the influence of the Kahoʻolawe movement to other sites of ongoing contention over military land use. Whereas challenges by Kahoʻolawe activists were initially disruptive of military logics and practices, today the production of environmental and cultural impact studies, the engineering of mitigation measures, and even the management of public opinion and dissent have been subsumed within routine functions of government and neoliberal capitalist relations. This shift has been accompanied by the emergence of new political economies and knowledge regimes to govern nature and natives alike. This study finds that such moves by the state to capture and neutralize the political efficacy of Kanaka ʻŌiwi contention inhere to a logic of counterinsurgency, which seeks pacification of resistance as its primary aim. Still, many Kānaka ʻŌiwi have continued to evade regulatory capture, and through shape-shifting practices of indigenous (re)emergence, have asserted creative expressions of aloha ʻāina (love of land, people, and country) and ea (life, sovereignty, breath, rising).