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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Nicky Gregson

Gregson, N., Watkins, H. & Calestani, M. Inextinguishable fibres: demolition and the vital materialisms of asbestos. Environment and Planning A. 2010;42:1065-1083.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

This paper forwards a performative reading of asbestos in economies of disposal. It argues that materials need to be thought through transformative states, not just stable states, and that materials’ performativity varies according to material states. As a radical intervention in form, demolition is one such transformative state, which disturbs and animates materials. Relatively unconsidered in the academic literature, demolition is argued to be the means to an endless source of surprise in the built environment as well as a singular and multiple practice entailing the dissolution of form, the purposeful reduction and dismantling of large-scale objects, salvage and remediation work, and a host of micropractices, including cutting, tearing, sorting, and separating. The paper illustrates asbestos’ interventions in demolition activities, using as its exemplar the case of ship breaking in the EU. More broadly, the paper works with asbestos to show that material properties are not fixed but processual, relational, and distributed. The paper also flags some key questions for the emergent debate on vital materialisms, highlighting the difficulties materials like asbestos pose for thinking through enchantment and generosity; the importance of thinking a vital materialism through remediation as well as salvage; and the need to extend an ethics founded on generosity to encompass respect, humility, responsibility, and surprise towards those materials that most threaten human life.