Weed Abatement: Immigrant Workers and Fire Prevention in Orange County


ACLS Fellowship Program




Orange County, like Los Angeles County to the north, is a region historically prone to wildfire. In recent years, however, extended drought and escalating climate change has fueled the frequency, scale, and intensity of wildfires to a degree never before seen. “Weed Abatement” examines how Latino immigrant workers’ ecological labor prevents wildfires in Southern California. It draws on two years of ethnographic research with weed abatement crews to argue that weed abatement labor serves as an alternate ecological scientific knowledge practice that enables a novel understanding of the political ecology of wildfires, called “fire-breaking.” “Fire-breaking” populates alternate worlds of racial, ecological, and atmospheric entanglement that includes the Santa Ana winds, the chaparral ecology, and Latino workers to imagine a future beyond the hamstrung cycle of devastation represented by fire and property regimes that workers currently uphold but from which they are ultimately excluded.