The sensory turn and the affective turn in contemporary scholarship both crystalised at roughly the same time but then diverged. This special issue reintegrates them. Conjointly, these twin approaches direct attention to the multiplicity, agency, and interactivity of the full spectrum of human faculties (i.e., how the senses and affects intersect with and may also disrupt the rule of reason) in addition to highlighting the extent to which ‘the perceptual is political.’ The resulting paradigm has precipitated a shift from the study of communities as ‘imagined’ to how they are sensed and/or felt, and from a focus on ‘the human condition’ to the intensive investigation of the multiple ‘national post-revolutionary conditions’ that define the current conjuncture. By foregrounding the aesthetics of politics, and tracking the eruption of dis-sensus (laughter, graffiti, dissent) within the con-sensus that states seek to foster in their citizenry, this special issue sounds a much-needed wake-up call.
The Sensory Revolution Comes of Age
Néstor L. Silva
Literature on petroleum and its toxicities understands both as simultaneously social and ecological. Beginning with scholarship on petroleum and its toxicity that captures that simultaneity and mutual constitution, this review defines petrotoxicity as the socioecological toxicity inherent in petroleum commodification. The term signals that petroleum’s social and ecological toxicities are not merely related, but always/already interdependent and inherent in petroleum commodification. Thinking about petrotoxicity this way frames it as something similar to repressive and ideological apparatuses. Althusserian apparatuses shape subjects and spaces in violent and bureaucratic ways. Generating and resisting petrotoxic apparatuses are consistent themes of literature on petrotoxicity. Thinking with Stuart Hall’s critique of Louis Althusser, this review concludes by highlighting scholarship showing the limits of this popular framing of power, ecology, and intervention vis-à-vis petroleum. Long-term fieldwork in North Dakota’s Bakken region informs this article at various points.
Natalie Bump Vena, Paige Dawson, Thomas De Pree, Sarah Hitchner, George Holmes, Sudarshan R Kottai, Daniel J Murphy, Susan Paulson, Victoria C. Ramenzoni, and Kathleen Smythe
Langston, Nancy. 2017. Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 292 pp. ISBN 978-0-300-21298-3.
Moore, Margaret. 2019. Who Should Own Natural Resources? Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. 140 pp. ISBN 978-1-509-52916-2.
Middleton Manning, Beth Rose. 2018. Upstream: Trust Lands and Power on the Feather River. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 244 pp. ISBN 978-0-8165-3514-9.
Van de Graaf, Thijs, and Benjamin K. Sovacool. 2020. Global Energy Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-1-5095-3048-9.
Wapner, Paul. 2020. Is Wildness Over? Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. ISBN 978-1-5095-3212-4.
DeSombre, Elizabeth R. 2020. What Is Environmental Politics? Cambridge: Polity Press. 202 pp. ISBN 978-1-5095-3413-5.
Ptáčková, Jarmila. 2020. Exile from Grasslands: Tibetan Herders and Chinese Development Projects. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN: 9 78-0-295-74819-1.
Liegey, Vincent, and Anitra Nelson. 2020. Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide. London: Pluto Press. 224 pp. ISBN 978-0-7453-4201-6.
Behringer, Wolfgang. 2019. Tambora and the Year without a Summer: How a Volcano Plunged the World into Crisis. Medford, MA: Polity Press. 334 pp. ISBN 978-1-509-52549-2.
Duvall, Chris S. 2019. The African Roots of Marijuana. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 351 pp. ISBN 978-1-4780-0394-6.
Christos Lynteris and Joe Ellis
Frédéric Keck. Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 245. 2020.
Lars Højer and Morten Axel Pedersen. Urban Hunters: Dealing and Dreaming in Times of Transition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 270. 2019.
Alongside the melting of glaciers, human bodies warn of another petrochemically driven planetary crisis. Much as climate science ignored the early warning observations of Indigenous peoples, the medical establishment has oft en dismissed the canaries struggling to survive in the mineshaft of modernity. In an aleatory Anthropocene, we know not for whom the toxicity will toll. While case studies of environmental justice remain essential, the privileged must also be jolted into understanding their own ontological precariousness (i.e., vulnerability) from toxicants pervasive in everyday life. Moving beyond “citizen science” with inspiration from feminist ethics of care and relational Indigenous epistemologies, I make a case for the extrasensory value of “canary science.” If managerial “risk” was the keyword of the profiteering twentieth century, a sense of shared vulnerability in the coronavirus era could help usher in the transitions needed for survival in this polluted world.
The Biopolitical Science of Toxicity
This article reviews interdisciplinary toxicity literature, building from Gerald E. Markowitz and David Rosner’s “deceit and denial” and Phil Brown’s “contested illnesses” to argue for a third, more critical analytic that I term “empire and empirics.” Deceit and denial pit corporate actors against antitoxins advocates, while contested illnesses highlight social movements. Empire and empirics center the role of imperialism in reproducing today’s unevenly distributed toxic exposures. I find this third path the most generative because the products and the production of science—toxicants and toxicology—are situated in their sociohistorical, politico-economic, ecological, and affective contexts. Revealing the imperialist logics embedded into dominant ontoepistemology also illuminates alternative, liberatory pathways toward more environmentally just futures. I close with examples of “undisciplined” action research, highlighting scholar-practitioners who study toxicity with care and in nonhierarchical collaboration. While undisciplining is challenging, its potential for realizing environmental justice far outweighs the difficulties of doing science differently.
Brittany Kiessling and Keely Maxwell
Our article analyzes interdisciplinary literature within the social sciences on outcomes of environmental cleanups at Superfund, brownfield, and other contaminated sites. By focusing on postremediation sites and outcomes, we expand the understanding of the sociopolitical life of contaminated sites over time. First, we examine the technoscientific practices of how scientists and environmental managers seek to make cleanup outcomes legible and meaningful. Next, we engage with a wider array of literature on pollution/toxicity, uncovering circular temporalities in cleanup processes along with continuities in pollution/toxicity and in political struggle. Finally, we examine the social worlds of postremediation landscapes, drawing attention to how cleanups create new relationships among people, history, and nature. In conclusion, we identify areas of opportunity for these insights to inform the conceptualization and evaluation of cleanup outcomes in ways that better incorporate the complex dynamics of postremediation social worlds.
Distortion, Liminality, and Dissensus in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia
How do we understand the presence of the grotesque in negotiations of democratic life after a revolution? At the peak of procedural democratic consolidation, carnivalesque revelries in Tunisia became the object of public aporia and repugnance. The dissimilar interpretations of these revelries across generations evince an agonistic process of prizing open both the parameters of nationhood and democratic ideals within existing social relations. The concept of the ‘democratic grotesque’ captures the sensorial and affective ways Tunisian citizens negotiate the affordances and limitations of democracy in the post-revolutionary nation. The democratic grotesque has the double potential to revise intellectual and public understandings of democratic dispositions that emanate from liberal democracy and to blur the boundaries between revolution and democracy.
Cairene Ex-Prisoners after the 25 January Revolution
Maria Frederika Malmström
This article tells a story of the aftermath of the ‘failed revolution’ in Egypt through the prism of sound and gendered political prisoner bodies. It created embodied reactions among Cairene men—years after their lived prison experiences—in which depression, sorrow, stress, paranoia, rage, or painful body memories are prevalent. Affect theory shows how sonic vibrations—important stimuli within everyday experience, with a unique power to induce strong affective states—mediate consciousness, including heightened states of attention and anxiety. Sound, or the lack thereof, stimulates, disorients, transforms, and controls. The sound of life is transformed into the sound of death; the desire to disappear in order not to disappear again produces ‘ghost bodies’ alienated from the ‘new Egypt’, but from the family and the self too.
Ethnography and Environmental Justice
Grant M. Gutierrez, Dana E. Powell, and T. L. Pendergrast
This article reviews ethnographic literature of environmental justice (EJ). Both a social movement and scholarship, EJ is a crucial domain for examining the intersections of environment, well-being, and social power, and yet has largely been dominated by quantitative and legal analyses. A minority literature in comparison, ethnography attends to other valences of injustice and modes of inequality. Through this review, we argue that ethnographies of EJ forward our understanding of how environmental vulnerability is lived, as communities experience and confront toxic environments. Following a genealogy of EJ, we explore three prominent ethnographic thematics of EJ: the production of vulnerability through embodied toxicity; the ways that injustice becomes embedded in landscapes; and how processes like research collaborations and legal interventions become places of thinking and doing the work of justice. Finally, we identify emergent trends and challenges, suggesting future research directions for ethnographic consideration.