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Chemicals are ambivalent substances engaged in the distribution of life and death with political, ethical, and affective implications. This panel invites a critical and methodological engagement with chemicals that reflect on living and dying in chemically altered worlds.
Chemicals are ambivalent matters, engaged in the distribution of life and death across geographies, organisms, and bodies. As industrial products they carry the history of capitalist and environmental exploitation. As effective substances they foster growth and pleasure, produce kinship and belonging, or induce harm and suffering. As enduring particles they shape our geological era, while unequally exposing people to toxicants along the geopolitical lines of class and race (Agard-Jones 2013).
Industrial chemicals and their by-products have become indispensable to human and more-than-human life, acting on and transforming territories and bodies in ways that are destructive and beneficial to planetary and human health. In this current condition of alterlife (Murphy 2017), the histories of chemicals, their (side) effects as well as their afterlives and speculative futures permeate life-death affectively and materially. As such, STS scholars follow chemicals ethnographically (Shapiro and Kirksey 2017) and take into account their agency, by allowing substances to surprise and enthrall (Dumit 2022, Gomart 2004).
This panel gathers scholars working on and with substances in different disciplines and localities to explore the politics, ethics and affects of living and dying in relation to chemicals. It expands existing discussions with a focus on how specific chemicals - pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other compounds - in their respective form, property and use are engaged in the production and governance of life and death, but also how they blur the lines between those worlds.
We invite papers that:
- trace chemicals in their lively and deadly potentials and methodologically attune to their material-affective capacities.
- critically investigate practices of inhabiting toxic worlds (Nading 2020) as well as the post/colonial inequalities inscribed in them.
- explore avenues of collaboratively intervening in “chemical violence” (Murphy 2017) to strive for decolonial futures.
- question ethical imperatives of living and dying in chemically altered times.