CFP: (In)visibility and Pollution: Making ‘Sense’ of Toxic Hazards and Environmental Justice

Toxic  Expertise's picture

CFP: (In)visibility and Pollution: Making ‘Sense’ of Toxic Hazards and Environmental Justice 

Third Annual ‘Toxic Expertise’ Workshop

15-16 May, 2018

University of Warwick

Creating and disseminating knowledge of toxic pollution is a key challenge for academics, activists, and local communities alike. Not all toxins are detectable through human sensory perceptions; and our bodies do not always react to toxins immediately. The long-term health impacts of accumulated contamination are severe, but the elusive nature of toxic pollution makes appropriate actions difficult if not impossible.

Since toxic landscapes are replete with deferred harms, secreted hazards, and invisible layers of ‘slow violence’ (Nixon 2011), making toxic pollution known is a contested social and political process (Hecht 2012, Walker 2012). Informal knowledge is regularly overlooked while expensive scientific expertise is often required to ‘translate’ toxicity into legible and/or legal forms. But even when contaminated communities can ‘sense’ or ‘measure’ the pollution surrounding them, converting that knowledge into political action is not a straightforward process.

In a world full of contested toxic hazards, how pollution is made visible - or rendered unknowable - is of critical concern for the social sciences. Using visibility as a starting point to explore our sensorial engagements with toxic times and spaces, this workshop will showcase papers from a range of disciplines that tackle the challenge of making ‘sense’ of toxic pollution and environmental injustice through qualitative and quantitative approaches, including participatory methods, storytelling, affect, spatial data analysis, and ethnographic research, among many others. We invite theory-driven and empirically rich papers from a broad range of disciplines that explore how toxicity can be sensed, embodied, and made visible.

Possible topics and themes include but are not limited to: 

  • What other senses, beyond the visual, are important in narrating and making sense of toxicity?
  • What methods and approaches can we use to make the unseen world of toxic pollution visible? 
  • Can ‘citizen science’ provide new ways of understanding toxic hazards?
  • How do local communities ‘sense’ and make sense of pollution?
  • What role does visualising and sensing pollution play in the success and failure of environmental justice campaigns?
  • How can quantitative analyses be used in telling stories of pollution without oversimplifying or overgeneralizing?
  • What are the politics that surround sensing pollution; in what ways do powerful actors make toxicity (in)visible?

The two-day event is the third annual interdisciplinary Toxic Expertise workshop at the University of Warwick, funded by the European Research Council (ERC). The Toxic Expertise project, led by Dr Alice Mah, is the first in-depth sociological exploration of the global petrochemical industry in relation to corporate social responsibility and environmental justice.

Accommodation will be paid for, and there is limited financial support for travel. Please send your paper abstracts of 250 words and a short bio-blurb by Monday 19 February, 2018 to the following address: