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Hazardous Time-Scapes

How to Make Sense of Toxic Landscapes from Multiple Timed, Spaced, and Embodied Perspectives?

Workshop at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society and in collaboration with Deadly Dreams Network

November 30 - December 2, 2017

The program of the workshop can be found here.

Read the workshop report by Laura Deal on the RCC blog Seeing the Woods

More than other historical subfields, environmental history in specific and environmental humanities in particular have to consider that human-environment relationships are “not merely mental or intellectual but spaced, timed and embodied” so Ursula Lehmkuhl. Additionally, the simultaneous incorporation of the human and more-than-human perspectives in scholarly analysis evokes methodological and theoretical challenges concerning time and space as well as embodiment. Instead of the dominant industrial time regime that is based on clock-time and Newton’s physics, scholars—not only of environmental history but also the environmental humanities—have to take multiple time regimes into account. Similarly, human-made or even bodily borders cannot contain the environment, while at the same time, cultural, social, and foremost national regimes regulating the environment, aspire to do exactly that.

Toxic landscapes are ideal places to study those multiple and overlapping time and space regimes. Toxicants, such as heavy metals or radioactive molecules, can mark landscapes and their inhabitants for generations or centuries while also imprinting on the dominant framework of industrial clock-time. Pesticides and herbicides inhibit or accelerate natural growth to fit more neatly with industrial time. Additionally, in the same way that toxins can alter their own bodily shape from fluid to solid, toxins, such as endocrine disruptors, can also fundamentally alter our very body-scape as well as that of yet unborn future generations. Finally, the locality of toxins—whether they are found in the ground, under water, or in the air—matters tremendously when defining their toxicity, as does the specific social and cultural space they inhabit. The very same material can be considered hazardous waste in one country and recycling material in the next. The assessment of toxins’ harmfulness can hinge on their very mutability and mobility in relation to where exactly they are located.

The workshop Hazardous Time-Scapes sought to understand human-environment relationships through the lens of multiple overlapping time, space, and body regimes as they have (and continue to) play out in toxic landscapes. We invited theory-driven as well as research-based papers coming not only from environmental history, but from the entire breadth of the environmental humanities.

Toxic Time-Scapes - an edited volume by Simone M. Müller and May-Brith Ohman-Nielsen

In its aftermath, the workshop is taking on the life-form of an edited volume entitled Toxic Time-Scapes. The book will provide a multi-disciplinary overview with case-studies from Europe, North- and South America, the Pacific, and South East Asia for understanding human-environment relationships through the lens of multiple, overlapping time, space, and body regimes as they have (and continue to) play out in toxic landscapes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Stay tuned for more news about this upcoming publication.