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Bioaccumulation: Chemical Geographies of Racial Capitalism

Authors: Brian Williams*, Mississippi State University, Pavithra Vasudevan, University of Texas at Austin
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: racial capitalism, chemicals, pesticides, political ecology, environmental racism.
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper intervenes in the growing body of work in chemical geographies, arguing that an adequate understanding of the role of chemicals and toxicity in industrial capitalism requires attention racism as a key modality of capitalism. Drawing from scholarship on racial capitalism, we emphasize the need to theorize capitalism and racism as mutual dynamics with profound environmental dimensions. Focusing on pesticides, we propose an analytic of bioaccumulation to unpack how toxicity shows a particular kind of operation of racial capitalism. Capitalism works through fictive geographical and bodily hierarchies, while attempting to verify those hierarchies and eliminate the threat of difference through its very operations of power. In this way, the supposed excesses and unintended consequences of chemical toxicity are made central to the reproduction of racial capitalism, even as racism provides an infrastructure for the toxicity of industrial capitalism through the differential valuation of life. We conclude by reflecting on the implications for cultivating and nourishing abolition ecologies.

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