Toxicity Beyond the Human: The Corporation, Uncertain Science, and Methodologies of Encounter

With evidence that toxins have permeated every system on earth, from the crustaceans living in the depths of the Mariana Trench, to the pollutants found in the snows of Mount Everest, in these changing climates, toxicity is simultaneously ubiquitous and aberrant. The determination of where any toxic materials or accumulations might fall on this spectrum necessitates the continued revisiting of the effects of power on environmental, bodily, and mental health. This panel considers the corporation, ‘uncertain science,’ and their accompanied materialities as more-than-human entities with social lives beyond their human fabrication. Toxicity and its effects can be rendered invisible, obfuscated, and transformed by super-human entities with unprecedented power. Supra-national regulatory bodies intervene in the policy-making which regulates toxicity, publicly owned-companies use strategic tactical measures to mitigate exposure of shareholders to risks of class-action toxic contamination lawsuits, and scientific forums serve to mediate debates about what kinds of contamination and evidence can ‘count’ and according to what assessment measures. Ultimately, these practices disguise the many ways of knowing in the midst of toxic uncertainties. So how do we, as anthropologists, begin to uncover them?

As anthropologists, we are enticed by the possibility of ethnography to shed light on such multiplicity, and yet resolving to slice through the many layers of so-called facts can be a difficult business. Thus, ethnographically studying toxicity necessitates unique methodologies, which may include following the flow of paperwork, using court proceedings to uncover corporate secrets, tracing (Geissler et al. 2016) networks producing scientific knowledge or regulatory practices, but also involve visual or sensory methodologies that may reveal other ways of knowing toxic environments. The objective of this panel is to consider, highlight, and demonstrate some methodological tools for exploring toxicity in the 21st century.

We are looking for papers that address the methodological and related concerns of studying corporations, material histories, and uncertainty surrounding toxicity in various contexts. Please send 250 word abstracts, as well as affiliation and contact information, to and by Thursday April 4th.