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Toxic bodies in toxic systems: contamination, power, and the everyday life

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Maaret Jokela-Pansini, Christoph Kaufmann
Chairs: Diego Melo


This session examines the everyday experiences, practices, struggles, construction of and knowledge production about toxic bodies from various methodological and theoretical approaches. The papers focus on everyday encounters with toxicity near industrial production sites, agricultural areas, mining sites and energy plants or reflect more broadly about living in a permanently contaminated/damaged world (Tsing et al 2017; Alaimo 2008). We understand human bodies as embedded in, exposed to and composed of nonhuman matter such as plants, animals, microbiomes, bacteria, viruses and chemicals (Haraway 2016; Alaimo 2008).
This session brings together work inspired e.g. by feminist political ecology and environmental justice scholarship on polluted environments that moves beyond victimizing actors. Instead, it analyses residents' experiences of toxicity and therefore, the agency of toxic bodies within a toxic system (cf. Agard-Jones 2013; Valdivia 2018). The session acknowledges at the same time that toxicity is part of larger power structures such as environmental racism, colonialism, or center-periphery imaginations that significantly shape the uneven geographies of contamination and public awareness (Nunn 2018; Pulido 2017; Davies 2018).

The papers address topics including:
- Embodied experiences of toxicity
- Toxicity and difference; how is toxicity racialized/gendered/sexualized?
- Everyday practices of survival/adaptation/resistance in polluted environments
- (Feminist) ethics of care of/about the environment
- Environmental racism and colonial structures of toxic spaces
- Embeddedness of contamination governance & state formation
- Toxic matter as part of identity formation
- Political/economic/social constructions of toxicity (e.g. who decides which substances need to be regulated and how?)
- Public awareness and alternative knowledge making practices about toxicity
- Methodological reflections such as participatory and activist approaches and mixed-methods


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Anna Abramova*, California State University, Long Beach, Department of Geography, USA, Dan Costa Baciu, University of California Santa Barbara, Department of English, USA, Environmental awareness lagging behind pollution: local impact of coal mining in Spitsbergen and the rise of public awareness 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Christoph Kaufmann*, University of Zurich, “Mercury doesn’t bite”: the politics of toxicity governance in Colombian gold mining 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Maaret Jokela-Pansini*, University of Berne, Switzerland Geographisches Institut, Care ecologies: affective dynamics in a polluted environment in Taranto, Italy 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Diego Melo*, University of Colorado At Boulder, The Material-Semiotic Objects of Extractivism: Fetishized metals, racialized bodies and toxic landscapes in Chocó, Colombia. 15 12:00 AM

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