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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Critical Toxicologies

In a world of growing chemical dangers, are we all toxicologists now? How are complex responsibilities for, and pathways of, toxic regulation, exposure, and protection claimed by different expert and lay groups? Integrating social and health sciences, the Critical Toxicologies group develops innovative perspectives on a problem of significant public concern – how to navigate a world of (often hidden) toxicity in which acquiring toxicological knowledge becomes essential for healthy living.

The group includes ongoing projects on pesticides and global health (an ethnographic study of the 'lives' - and where they have been banned, 'after-lives' - of agrochemicals between points of production, use, and consumption), water pollution and chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka (incorporating perspectives from anthropology and chemistry), and South Asian toxicologies (historical, medical, and social perspectives on figures of the poison, poisoner, and poisoned in the South Asia cultural zone).

The group is led by Dr Tom Widger.


Toxic Legacies, Global Pollutants - Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Chemical Anthropocene

Durham University, 29-30 June 2017

Chemical pollution drives anthropogenic eco-systems change – a consequence of industrial and agrarian capitalism that simultaneously produces synthetic toxic waste and allows natural toxins to flourish. Toxic Legacies, Global Pollutants traced the emergence of the Chemical Anthropocene at material and theoretical levels, locating its roots in the poison knowledges that supported Eurasian science and medicine and offering a survey of how global modernity and environmental activism came to cohere around and utilise specific modes of toxicological knowledge. Combining perspectives from anthropology, history, and STS, papers presented at the symposium offered exciting and original approaches to conceptualising and exploring the relationship between poisons and pollutants across time and place in an era defined by increasing concern over planetary chemical contamination.

The event was generously supported by a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship in Society and Ethics, the Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham, and the Department of Anthropology, Durham.

Toxic legacies workshop