Accepted Paper:

Classifying, Regulating, Breeding: Transnational Fractures in Epistemic Regimes of Toxicity  


Lucas Mueller (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

Epistemic regimes of toxin control gained their authority not necessarily through neatly aligning sites of expert authority and research. Rather, the sites’ divergent histories underwrite the authority and persistence of such regimes, shown in a study of aflatoxins in the UK and India since 1960.

Paper long abstract:

Over the last half-century, epistemic regimes concerned with the study, assessment, and control of toxic substances have proliferated on national, supranational, and international scales. Such regimes of regulatory authority and of knowledge-making have been usefully analyzed through the framework of co-production (Jasanoff). Building on co-production and studies on the longue durée of technoscientific governance (Pestre), this paper analyzes research and control of aflatoxins, carcinogenic substances produced by fungi growing on crops, in the United Kingdom and India and at the WHO-affiliated International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) since 1960. Based on archival research and interviews in India and the UK and at IARC, this presentation investigates the emergence, fragmentation, and convergence of epistemic regimes concerned with studying, classifying and controlling aflatoxins across sites of knowledge-making and territories of expert authority. It argues that the apparent persistence of such an expert regime and its object of control, aflatoxins, can be attributed to the fragmented, yet interacting, histories of scientific and political institutions and of research practices. In this narrative, aflatoxins emerge as a multivalent scientific objects in scientific, social, and political trajectories of cancer control (United Kingdom) and nutrition research (India). It is then exactly aflatoxins' polvyvalence that makes it a precedent setting case in a crossnational epistemic regime for controlling toxic substances.

Panel T073
Epistemic Regimes - Reconfiguring epistemic quality and the reconstitution of epistemic authority