Epigenetics, developmental biology, and feminist science and technology studies teach us that organisms are not merely affected by their environment—they are co-constituted by it, in deep dialogue. What, then, does it mean to be human in the abundant presence of human-produced toxins? From Bisphenol A (BPA) to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to glyphosate and many more, the efflorescence of 20th century toxins settles into humans and their companion species. Here, we take an expanded notion of toxicity. Think cancers and endocrine disruption from chemical compounds, but also asthma from auto emissions—or type-2 diabetes (and the glucose toxicity that accelerates it) from industrial-scale sugar production. What might environmental anthropology teach us about how to reckon with the biology, politics, and intimacy of toxicity? What forms of care and disfigurement are engendered by toxic modernity—what social categories and storytelling practices, what kinds of landscapes and institutions, what modalities of multispecies love and subjection? In this thematic series, we seek to explore these questions by considering the lived experience of people and environments encountered by anthropologists in the field.
Some potential directions include:
- Catalysts: What specific ideas and historical processes promote toxicity? How do people endure, understand, and respond to it?
- Otherness: In what ways are toxins channeled along categories of race, class, gender, or species? How are toxin pathways and geographies contested? How are categories of otherness themselves—untouchable, polluting, queer—produced or disseminated by states and other institutions?
- Chronotopes: What are the spatial and temporal contours of toxicity? What kids of stories do they enable or obscure? How do they articulate with everyday practice or life history? How does the “slow violence” described by Rob Nixon square with modernity’s obsession with speed?
- Intimacy: What forms of contact and affect are found among humans and their companion species in toxic landscapes? How do toxic environments disrupt notions of inside and outside, health and illness, organic and synthetic, or personal and political?
Submissions can take the form of 1-2,000-word essays; short photo and video essays; poetry and experimental prose; narratives of activist campaigns; audio recordings; and other forms in consultation with the editors. Prof. Kristina Lyons (UC Santa Cruz) and Prof. Mónica Salas-Landa (Lafayette College) will provide commentary on the submissions. Please indicate your interest or make inquiries by email to the Engagement co-editors:
Colin Hoag: firstname.lastname@example.org
Theresa Miller: email@example.com
Chitra Venkataramani: firstname.lastname@example.org