Dead Land: Geographies of Life, Death, and Waste in the San Francisco Bay Area

Key MacFarlane
History of Consciousness
UC Santa Cruz

This dissertation examines spaces of death and waste in the San Francisco Bay Area and the role they play in creating exclusionary forms of life and value. Though the Bay Area is widely known for its creative economy, high-tech lifestyles, and cosmopolitan politics, this dissertation argues that this “progress” has been achieved through the racialized production and displacement of death. This project looks in particular at how histories of death have been concealed within the land itself – through processes of capital accumulation – in the form of material waste. It examines four sites of waste related to the Bay Area’s growth: (1) the Emeryville Shellmound, an indigenous burial site that is now home to a major shopping mall, (2) the town of Colma, known as San Francisco’s necropolis, (3) the landscaping and corporate waste generated at Apple’s new Infinity Loop campus in Cupertino, and (4) legacies of electronic waste on a global level. Drawing on these four case studies, this dissertation develops the idea of “dead land” and demonstrates how it underlies the Bay Area’s techno-utopian culture, provides a “fix” for urban development, and ties the formation of capitalist value to long legacies of violence.