Chemo-ethnography and Environmental Humanities
The material-and-dreamworld-making power of chemistry
S. Eben Kirksey, lecturer in Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales
June 22nd, 11am, Collège d’études mondiales/FMSH
Chemicals have become ethnographic objects. Anthropologists are exploring questions related to materiality, toxicity, neurochemistry, abdication of the state, and the legacy of industrial capitalism. Novel sensing technologies, and collaborations with intellectual allies in other disciplines, are allowing ethnographers to explore the politics of visibility/invisibility, processes of corrosion, and the presence of chemical “species” in water, soil, air, and human bodies. Rather than just study chemicals as indicators and agents of deleterious change, ethnographers have also considered how initiatives like pharmaceutical bioprospecting or fracking monitoring programs has displaced pressing community concerns, foreclosed imaginative horizons, and delimited conversations to the priorities of scientists and policy makers. The “chemical turn” is allied with the “speculative turn” in anthropology, in that it is exploring the material-and-dreamworld-making power of chemistry. Drawing on interdisciplinary conversations in Science and Technology Studies (STS), as well as the Environmental Humanities, this talk will explore the promises and perils of thinking chemically, not just to celebrate chemistry but to think critically about what slippages occur when we focus on the molecular register and clamber towards “new techniques” making knowledge about age-old socio-material fault lines.