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Danika Cooper

“Strategic Invisibility: The Exploitative Histories of Desert Landscapes”

Danika Cooper

University of California, Berkeley, Mellon Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies, Fall Term

The concept of “strategic invisibility” applies to spaces that are either literally out of sight or beyond the cultural imaginary, and therefore evade public scrutiny and judicial processes. Of these spaces, Cooper is particularly interested in deserts, a term that often conjures images of empty and barren territories and which have served to concretize the myth that deserts are unproductive and devoid of value. The desert’s perceived emptiness has allowed governments to exert intensive control with insidious socio-environmental consequences. Using historiographical and critical race methods, she will specifically explore Indigenous land dispossession as a consequence of strategic invisibility.

Danika Cooper is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where the core of her research centers on the geopolitics of scarcity, alternative water ontologies, and designs for resiliency in the world’s arid regions. Her work incorporates historiographical research methods, data visualizations, and theories of urban infrastructure to evaluate and design for environmental and social justice. Specifically, Cooper is focused on emphasizing alternatives to the prevailing nineteenth-century conceptions that the aridlands should be overturned through technocratic solutions and neoliberal politics. Her work has been published and exhibited around the world, and she has practiced in both the United States and India.