Violence against the rural? Toxic lives and slow deaths in ‘Cancer Alley’

Authors: Thom Davies*, University of Warwick
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Environment, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: necropolitics, pollution, slow violence, toxic landscapes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Every year, pollution is responsible for one in six deaths worldwide (Landrigan
2017), yet death is only a small part of the everyday brutalities of living in toxic
places. In Louisiana, along the lower Mississippi River between New Orleans and
Baton Rouge exists one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities in
the world, nicknamed ‘Cancer Alley’. This paper draws on ethnographic research
with marginalised communities who inhabit this postcolonial riverscape, which
many consider synonymous with the slow violence of pollution. This paper
reveals everyday co-habitations with toxic petrochemicals, including attritional
impacts on human bodies, plants, and local environments. Through a discussion
of slow violence (Nixon 2011) and necropolitics (Mbembe 2003), I place this
ongoing research within an exploration of violence against rural spaces. Drawing
on scholarship on urbicide (Coward 2008; Rice & Tyner 2017) - or ‘the killing of
cities’ - I highlight how rural communities are often on the frontline of
environmental disasters and the gradual brutality of pollution. In conversation
with previous ethnographic research I have conducted in the toxic landscapes of
Fukushima in Japan, and Chernobyl in Ukraine, I reflect on how we might come
to terms with violence that renders rural spaces socially and environmentally
dead.

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