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Uncertainty in Motion: Rumors of a Proxy War in Late Industrial Baltimore

By Chloe Ahmann

Cite As:
Ahmann, Chloe. 2023. “Uncertainty in Motion: Rumors of a Proxy War in Late Industrial Baltimore.” Cultural Anthropology 38, no. 3: 303–333.


Until 2016, South Baltimoreans debated a proposed incinerator. Those debates were manifestly about local land use, but rumors spread that something else was really going on. Opponents supposed the plant was secretly owned by a power player in the waste-to-energy sector; supporters swore opponents must be bankrolled by Big Landfill. In short: a waste-industry proxy war was brewing in South Baltimore. I follow these rumors and argue that their persuasive power grew as they darted up, down, and back, forging a politics of connection across scales that made skilled use of fragmented information. On both sides of the issue, talk of outside influence worked to vest some voices with more authority than others. Tracking these claims across scales and through allegedly bad relations—in a place where corporations strive to disavow connections of all kinds and consign local knowledge to the realm of mere suspicion—I show how rumors of a proxy war became tools for mapping ambiguous forces long at play in this environment. More, by wielding doubt to do subversive work, rumors managed to draw local power from them.


rumor; uncertainty; interscalar; authority; late industrialism; waste; United States; ethnographic knowledge rumor; Estados Unidos


Copyright (c) 2023 Chloe Ahmann Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.