Accepted Paper:

Dow shalt not forget Bhopal: contending with capitalism at the 30th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster  


Chandana Mathur (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

Paper short abstract:

In order to situate the 1984 poisoning of the population of Bhopal, India, by Union Carbide Corporation (now merged with Dow Chemical) within an understanding of the history of capitalist transformation, this paper interrogates the usefulness of terms like 'globalisation' or 'neoliberalism'.

Paper long abstract:

Poisonous gases leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal in India one night in December 1984, killing thousands immediately and leaving an estimated one hundred thousand people permanently disabled. The prolonged aftermath is frequently characterised as a second disaster -- a delayed and corrupt court settlement has brought grossly inadequate compensation to a small fraction of the survivors through a slow and tortuous claims process; Union Carbide Corporation has successfully managed to evade liability through corporate shape-shifting after being bought out by Dow Chemical Company; adverse health effects and birth defects due to gas exposure continue to proliferate in Bhopal; dangerous contaminants still seep into the air, water and soil from the abandoned and festering Union Carbide factory.

The transnational corporation is an emblematic institutional form of present-day capitalism. There are important systemic processes that have been opened up for view in the morphing of the Union Carbide Corporation into the Dow Chemical Company, and the consequent disavowal of responsibility for Bhopal by both entities. As Bhopal survivors have suffered from and struggled against the injustices heaped on them, the historical trajectory of the capitalist world order has seemingly tilted against them. This paper seeks to place the experience of Bhopal survivors within the intersecting force fields of local and global transformations of capital, and asks if neologisms such as globalisation or neoliberalism extend our understanding of this experience.

Panel P022
Reconsidering anthropologies of neoliberalism and globalization: historical conjuncture and narratives of rupture (Commission on Global Transformations and Marxian Anthropology)