Between state phobia and state addiction: epistemic crises and struggles for care in Flint, MI

Authors: Curtis Pomilia*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: environmental justice, health geography, epistemology, state violence, authoritarian neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Couteau, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Flint Water Crisis is an ongoing public health emergency that began in April 2014, when the city of Flint, Michigan switched water sources leading to the potential exposure of more than 100,000 people to lead, microorganisms, and other toxins. Since January 2016, Flint residents have been provided bottled water and other supplies through governmental and non-governmental organizations while city, state, and federal agencies have been responding to the water contamination event. However, beginning in September 2017, there was a precipitous decline in funding for the city’s point-of-distribution water sites and home water deliveries for residents with access and functional needs, leading to gaps in care, anxiety, and outrage from the Flint community. This decline in financial resources is a direct result of water quality testing from regulatory agencies and academic institutions that ostensibly demonstrated that Flint is in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act. In spite of this determination, county medical professionals, citizen scientists, and state actors continue to advocate for bottled water provisioning and caution the public against drinking municipal water. In this paper, I draw upon interviews with these different actors to discuss this contested terrain of medical knowledge and state care. My analysis focuses on linking this conflict over diagnosis and investment to a broader struggle against the epistemic frame of authoritarian neoliberalism in Michigan which, since the passage of Public Act 4 in 2011, has been aggressively undermining local democracy and devaluing human life in poor and minority communities across the state.

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