Techniques of Definition in the Case of Plastic Pollution
How do different stakeholders define contested, amorphous, invisible phenomena? How do they make such phenomena determinate, concrete, and legible enough for action? Plastic pollution is an extreme but quintessential case study to study such challenges and their politics because plastic pollution exceeds not only notions of what pollution is and how it works, but also because stakeholders are struggling to find ways to describe and correlate plastics with harm. This manuscript investigates what I am calling “techniques of definition,” the tools and practices that produce determinate boundaries and properties of emerging entities in plastic pollution. Plastics are in every ocean and in every human body, where they transcend the scientific theories, measurements, and practices meant to study and define pollution. Usual measurements of toxicity, dose-response relationships and predictive models for long-term effects are failing to account for or prevent plastic pollution. Stakeholders, from industry lobbyists to breast cancer activists, argue for different and often contradictory definitions of and precautions against both pollution and harm. Thus, plastic pollution is not a merely a technical problem of wayward pollutants, but is also an epistemological problem for the science upon which policy and advocacy depend.
Presently, Liboiron is working on a project in partnership with Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), Silent Spring Institute, and UC Berkeley, and funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. The overall project investigates the ethics of reporting results of biomonitoring tests that identify synthetic chemicals in human blood, urine, and breast milk, including those that originate in plastics, back to study participants. In particular, she is researching how activists have used their biomonitoring results as part of larger campaigns for change.
Discard Studies Compendium
with Robin Nagle and Michele Acuto
The Discard Studies Compendium seeks to showcase the state of the art and range of academic inquiry into waste, wasting, and discards. It will illustrate how various debates on waste and wasting can generate critical knowledge about the connections and dissociations of social theory, material problems, and public engagement. Modeled after the format of Critical Keywords, the Compendium will take a critical approach to the unique concepts, challenges, myths, and methodologies used in the wide interdisciplinary field of discard studies. This project is an extension of the Discard Studies Blog, which has operated as a hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others whose work touches on themes relevant to the study of waste and wasting.
Superstorm Research Lab
with SRL members
The Superstorm Research Lab (SRL) is a mutual aid research collective working to understand the changes in how New York City policy actors, NGO leaders, activists, volunteers, and residents are thinking about social, economic and environmental issues following Hurricane Sandy. We produce traditional academic articles, but we are also pushing the boundaries of what it means to do scholarly work founded on the desire to create change.
We have two goals: First, we want NYC to be a more sustainable city, even a leader in the field of climate change sustainability, by rebuilding infrastructure, programs, and funding in ways that address social, economic, and environmental justice for all neighbourhoods and groups. Secondly, we aim to connect research and action, academia and wider community needs. This includes change and collaboration within our own academic community as well as methods and partnerships that exemplify our values.
Articles and Projects with SRL:
White Paper: A Tale of Two Sandys with Superstorm Research Lab
The Space-times of Disaster Aid with David Wachsmuth
Disaster Data and Data Activism
Why Activists Need a Theory of Scale
Mutual Aid Research Collective Processes with Superstorm Research Lab