Chemical Double-Binds: The Philippine Anti-Aerial Spray Movement from the Banana Plantation’s Periphery

Authors: Alyssa Paredes*, Yale University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Pacific Rim
Keywords: Chemical geography, plantation, activism, agriculture, Asia Pacific
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Chemical geographies trouble the spatial dimensions of the plantation. On export banana plantations in the southern Philippines, chemical drift from aerially sprayed fungicides consistently escapes the perimeter of the agricultural estate. Invisible and untraceable to modern managerial schemas, they become nodes of externalized cost borne by locals with no formal connection to industry. As plantation debris flies up into the air and into bodies, it is pertinent to ask: Where is the plantation in the first place? And how can challenging these conceptual bounds enable Plantationocene scholarship to shed light on the apparatuses responsible for externalizing human and environmental costs (Haraway 2015; Moore 2015, Patel and Moore 2018)?
To address these questions, this paper follows the “Citizens Against Aerial Spray” (Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray) movement on the island of Mindanao. On banana plantations in the region, fungicides are applied not in singular form but in mixed “chemical cocktails,” making it impossible to draw links between a given active ingredient and any particular medical symptom. This clashes with Western-derived paradigms that frame both modern chemical regulation and environmental movements on a per-chemical basis, as demonstrated by the cases of DDT, DBCP, Methyl Bromide, and Glyphosate (Agard-Jones 2014; Bohme 2015; Boudia and Jas 2014, Carson 1962; Guthman 2016, 2017). This paper offers the concept of a “chemical double-bind” (Bateson 1956) to understand why activists chose to protest against chemical method rather than chemical content in their effort to reinsert themselves into the plantation imaginaries that have tried to efface them.

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