Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, October 19, 2012

Becky Mansfield: Biopolitics Liveblog 1

What is the relationship between environment and society? Political ecology, interest in envrionmental change, broadly. Health and the body. Papers on methylmercury, contaminated fish. Fish is the unfortunate bridge from old to new work by Mansfield.

She became very interested in toxics. A fascinating conundrum at many levels. The level of denial, combined with the burgeoning information about what these chemicals do.

Another part is the ways in which we then turn to individualized fear and responsibility talk. BPA free waterbottle, or wooden teething toys. New products that will save me or my children. Wraps us up in a tizzy that really isn't helpful. Paralyzing.

Her paper is about how knowledge is changing how we're thinking. How are we understanding or mapping relationships between bodies and the environment? Epigenetics is fundamentally changing some of the basic understanding. It used to be that the placenta, or the gene, was a kind of limit or boundary.

All that is problematized by epigenetics (non DNA causality of cells). Processes that turn genes on and off. (My uncle David and his research on placentas! Upregulation of ERV-3 retrovirus!)

Environment and gene have always been in a complex relationship. Sometimes what is discovered has a major impact: thalidomide, cancers.

Then there are morphological effects: obesity. Effects on reproductive outcomes. ADHD.

Thinking in terms of populations. The 400 000 IQ points increase distributed across a large population.

Life is plastic, bodies are emergent. Environments and bodies are made and remade.

This whole "what is life and how to govern it" thing is biopolitics. Foucault, "make live and let die." Governing emergent life. (Process relationism: We are extrusions of a chemical soup.)

Figure in Science on epigenetic life. Fetus in middle of figure called "Life in a contaminated world."

Biopolitical fears that grow out of history. Normative white man as pinnacle of humanity. Being dumb, fat and gay--fear of this is part of eugenic history. So a lot of the bio regulation looks like eugenics! Improving and protecting (the human) race. Degeneration talk is scary.

Fetus. Individualized repsonsibility. Women's lifestyle choices, for instance around fish consumption. (On the other hand, Claire Hassler.)

Or the responsibility is racialized. Racialized women (who eat more fish) become responsible for human purity. Neoliberal biopolitics asks for intense action by women. Not freedom from toxics but to freedom (unquote) to limit exposure. Inescapable requirement to choose what life looks like.

(I'm afraid I can't see why, knowing about mercury, I shouldn't avoid it in food, on the basis of this argument.)

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