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Beastly Bodies and Toxic Pathways

Sat, April 2, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Cascade 1B

Session Submission Type: Panel


The intractable problem of environmental toxins has always been a multispecies affair. As some animal bodies were selected to be human stand-ins for toxicological research, other species have risen to salience for how they occupy similar roles to humans in toxic ecological pathways. The movement of persistent pollutants through ecosystems and into animal bodies is a marker of the present that will pose incredible future policy challenges. But the problems are deeply historical: requiring an engagement with the social, cultural, environmental contexts in which toxins emerge as a growing public health problem.

This panel explores those contexts through case studies that span a range of animals – domestic, wild, and laboratory proxies – placing environmental history in conversation with multispecies ethnography, animal studies and material flow analysis. In doing so, this session will provide a space for grappling with vast temporalities, the limits of scientific measurement, and the problems of translation that mark our toxic legacy. Building upon the contributions made by recent environmental histories of toxicity (Walker, 2009; Langston, 2010), we consider the particular geographies of animal bodies while foregrounding the historical agency of animal actors. Shifting the focus of waste studies and toxic histories beyond the human allows scholars to develop a more expansive and non-anthropocentric understanding of environmental history and its publics.

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