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  • Department of Global Development
  • global development
  • Polson Institute
  • Polson Institute for Global Development

Seminar in Critical Development Studies co-hosted by the Polson Institute for Global Development, Cornell Global Development and the Graduate Field of Development Studies


This talk will explore ongoing abolitionist struggles against cultural genocide and the ways grassroots organizing both offers a lens into this history, but also, offers a concrete and embodied intervention in the future of Sapelo Island, which has the largest/remaining intact Gullah Geechee community on it (Hog Hammock). Because there is no U.S. agricultural history without the expertise and labor of African people who were enslaved across the South, including the Gullah Geechee people of the lower Atlantic Coast, the decades-long fight against cultural erasure from commercial developers has opened the door to reclaiming and cultivating crops that were grown when Sapelo was a plantation. Despite the fact that the violence of slavery and white supremacy is tied up with the crops that grew the global economy, embedding sugarcane, indigo, and other historic commercial crops with a traumatic legacy, they continue to be an indelible part of Gullah Geechee culture and play a role in arguments for a politics of repair and reparations. On Sapelo these crops offer a new way to continue to fight against the loss of descendant land at the hands of wealthy white developers and for the continued existence of their culture. In addition to discussing the liberatory farming of heritage crops on Sapelo, the speaker will also work through the ways in which we are framing specific calls for reparations. 

About the speaker: 

Nik Heynen, Polson Institute Distinguished Speaker at Cornell University

Nik Heynen's research explores areas of urban political ecology, abolition ecologies and geographies, and geographies of neoliberalism and racial capitalism. He seeks to theorize and demonstrate empirically how racialized processes of capitalism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism produce structurally unjust geographies and ecologies. He discovered geography after having double majored in philosophy and religious studies for a couple years as an undergraduate student. Nik did so, he now knows, because he saw geography as providing the clearest opportunity to work toward a social justice-oriented research agenda that takes rigorous, theoretically sophisticated scholarship seriously, but could also focus on practical, justice-centered work.

Trained as an urban geographer, Nik has published research based in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Atlanta and New Orleans, and is now thinking about cities in the U.S. South and has several streams of research in the southern cities.  

For nearly a decade Nik has worked with the Saltwater Geechee community on Sapelo Island on the restoration of traditional agricultural practices and flood mitigation made necessary as a result of descendants losing their land to development pressure and increasing sea-level rise. Through this work, he co-directs UGA’s Cornelia Walker Baily Program on Land and Agriculture with Maurice Bailey.

Early in his career, Nik was fortunate to serve as part of the editorial collective at Antipode, which was one of the key inspirations that made him want to become a geographer and was the founding Chair of Antipode’s Institute for the Geographies of Justice (IGJ). He has also served as an editor for Annals of the Association of American Geographers and he helped establish the University of Georgia Press book series Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation, as well as was a founding editor of the journal Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space.

Date & Time

October 6, 2023
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Nik Heynen headshot

More information about this event.

Contact Information

Maria Boa Alvarado, Graduate Student, Development Studies

  • mdb339 [at]



Department of Global Development

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