Chemical Intimacies and Toxic Publics
Hobbs, Peter David
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In this dissertation, I detail how capitalism has turned pollution into a generally accepted form of violence perpetuated in the name of economic health. Complete with a corps of risk managers and environmental consultants, neoliberal capitalism has fashioned pollution into a universal standard that functions as an ambient form of socialization. Pollution, I contend, serves as a social apparatus, an atmospheric example of what Jacques Rancire refers to as distributing the sensible (2004). Instead of being simply a by-product or unavoidable consequence, pollution serves as a constant reminder of the production/flow of capital and of modernitys dependency on heavy industries. But beyond its obvious emissions, spills, dumps, and tailing ponds, much of the fallout of pollution remains hidden. Thus, in mapping the social significance of pollution, the dissertation stresses these two conflicting principles: pollution is constantly present but also invisible. Pollution exists in the form of microscopic particles that travel on the wind and in waterways, penetrating ecosystems, neighbourhoods, homes, and bodies so that people are exposed to its poisons as a matter of fact, as a condition of the everyday, as an emblem of ones modernity. To counter this general acceptance of pollution, I engage in an ecological storytelling that utilizes comic book imagery, along with a mixture of archival and everyday material (government reports, tourist guides, newspaper clippings, postcards, and childrens drawings), to situate the specific harm done by the ambient toxins, chemicals emitted from specific polluting industries and imposed on specific people and ecologies. I concentrate on two ethnographic sites and two polluting industries, as half of the dissertation examines the politics of lead in Toronto (tracing its historical influence and public acceptance in two working class neighbourhoods), while the other half focuses on a massive petrochemical corridor that is located in and around the small city of Sarnia (in southwestern Ontario) and immediately adjacent to the First Nation of Aamjiwnaang. In addition to the more traditional ethnographic methods adopted in the textual chapters, the comics provide a stream of countermemories that refute neoliberal capitalism and its demand for more of the same.