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Accepted Paper:

Chemocosmogensis: generating new kinships in a polluted Arctic  
Elizabeth Woods (University of Manchester)

Paper Short Abstract:

In Alaska, the destructive impacts of pollution upon Yup'ik onto-epistemological groundings have the potential to reshape the reciprocity between humans and their more-than-human kin. How have chemical agents reshaped Yup'ik cosmology, personhood, and the cycle of life and death in Toksook Bay?

Paper Abstract:

The Circumpolar North is one of the most polluted regions on the planet, with the destructive impact of chemical agents increasingly exacerbated by rapid environmental change (Jamail 2019, O’Reilly 2016). However, in Alaskan coastal villages such as Toksook Bay the effects of pollution are not simply physical, but deeply emotional and spiritual as they alter traditional subsistence patterns that are crucial to the onto-epistemological groundings of Indigenous Yup'ik community members. In Yup'ik cosmology, animals give themselves over to hunters who treat them with respect as persons, within a framework of collaborative reciprocity in which the immortality and rebirth of both the human and more-than-human soul is central. However, offshore drilling, oil spills, and the acidification of ocean waters mean that the animals that many hunt and eat often contain Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in their fat, which are then retained within the bodies of those who consume them. What role do these pollutants play in an animist cosmology, such as that of the Yupiit people, if any? How do they impact personhood and the web of reciprocal relations between humans and more-than-humans? What of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth - where do they sit within this? Following Eugene Thacker's (2005) line of inquiry, are they a kind of "other-than–life", a "becoming non-living" that alters the flow of this cycle? This paper will provide a discussion of the theoretical reflections that have informed my evolving PhD research in Toksook Bay thus far.

Panel P009
Ambivalent substances: chemosocialities in life-death worlds [Medical Anthropology Europe (MAE)]
  Session 1 Thursday 25 July, 2024, -