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?
Inspired by Nancy Langston’s recent book, Toxic Bodies, as well as other recent writing on the medical and environmental anthropology of toxicity, the posts in this two-part thematic series explore these questions by considering the lived experience of people and environments encountered by anthropologists in the field. Commentaries are provided by Prof. Kristina Lyons and Prof. Mónica Salas-Landa.
Spirit, Monster, Table and Tongue
by Caroline Merrifield, Yale University
Tracing Chemical Intimacies
by Sophia Jaworski, University of Toronto
Ticks, Pesticides, and Biome-Subjectivity
by Abigail Dumes, University of Michigan
Read the original call for posts here.