Accepted Paper:

Biopolitics, or a chemical society  

Author:

Andrew Barry (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper develops two propositions. One is that there has been a surprising neglect of chemistry and chemicals in the social sciences, The second proposition is that despite this neglect, chemistry has come to play a remarkably salient role in social and political life

Paper long abstract:

This paper develops two propositions. One is that there has been a surprising neglect of chemistry and chemicals in the social sciences, despite the burgeoning concern with the idea of the elemental, and the longstanding interest in thermodynamics. This conceptual and empirical neglect is not new. Both anthropologists and geographers have long been preoccupied by the relation between the social, the physical, and the biological, but they have shown much less interest in the relation between the social and the chemical. The second proposition is historical. My contention is that despite this neglect, chemistry has come to play a remarkably salient role in social and political life. On the one hand, the presence, circulation and toxicity of chemicals is increasingly monitored and regulated, by both governments and individuals. On the other hand, the current epoch, the Anthropocene, has come to be defined and understood in biogeochemical terms, and these terms demand an interdisciplinary framework for their interrogation.

Panel A20
Chemical entanglements: exploring ontologies at the atomic level