The speculative dimension of mutant ecologies: Knowledge production, scalability, responsibility & environmental justice
Sven Bergmann (German Maritime Museum)
Paper short abstract:
Ecological destruction operates within specific temporalities and spatialities. Therefore, knowledge production has to deal with rather undecidable and speculative effects, and is highly contested. I will discuss two ethnographic cases: microplastics in the ocean & toxic algal blooms in Chile.
Paper long abstract:
"Slow violence" (Nixon) enables to discuss pollution as a particular form of colonialism. However, it is difficult to represent slow violence because of the specific temporalities of ecological destruction. As Heather Davis (2015) writes, "the relationship between cause and effect often appears much later, or (…) in completely different organisms". Therefore, studies of contamination and long-term effects of ecological disturbance (linking environmental and health issues) have to deal with undecidable and speculative effects. For example, in the marine environment we are seeing the emergence of new entities and lifeforms like the plastisphere (habitats and aggregations of microplastics with microbial life) whose impact, potentials and/or risks for marine ecosystems are hard to evaluate. Joe Masco explores "mutant ecologies" as linkages between nature, politics and futures. In my paper, I will contrast two examples of emergent mutant ecologies from my ethnographic research with rather different politics of scale: 1) The ubiquity of microplastics in the water is an increasing global problem. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is not easy to frame as environmental injustice because effects on ecosystems are rather speculative and though everyone seems to be concerned, no one seems to be responsible. 2) In 2016, a toxic algal bloom created a socio-environmental crisis on the island of Chiloé. Until now, knowledge production about the occurrence of red tide is highly contested between local actors and the Chilean government, at the same time addressing important issues like neglected local infrastructures, neoliberal exploitation of resources and labour, and the denial of indigenous knowledge.
Environments and infrastructures of slow violence