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Hazardous Time-Scapes: How to Make Sense of Toxic Landscapes from Multiple Timed, Spaced, and Embodied Perspectives?


30.11.2017 – 02.12.2017

Location: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany

Conveners: The Deadly Dreams Network, the Hazardous Travels DFG Emmy Noether Research Group, and the Center for the History of Global Development Shanghai

Environmental historians have a natural and yet problematic obsession with both time and space. The former stems from the sole necessary denominator defining them as historians, the latter from their occupation with the environment. More than other historical subfields, environmental history has to consider that human-environment relationships are “not merely mental or intellectual but spaced, timed and embodied,” according to 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. It is the toxic threat, so Ulrich Beck states, that makes people sense “that they participate with their bodies in things . . . and consequently, that they can be eroded like the stones and the trees in the acid rain.” Toxins, 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 seeks 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 invite theory-driven as well as research-based papers coming not only from environmental history, but from the entire breadth of the environmental humanities. Paper topics could speak to some of the following questions:

  1. Grasping Hazardous Time-Scapes: How can we make sense of the overlapping time and space regimes of toxic landscapes methodologically and theoretically?
  2. Embodying Hazardous Time-Scapes: How do human actors make sense of the myriad toxic time-scapes they encounter in toxic landscapes? How have they responded to the bodily changes that occurred?
  3. Defining Hazardous Time-Scapes: What is the role of science and technology in defining time and space regimes of toxicity? What is the role of the media and environmental activism?
  4. Remembering and Envisioning Hazardous Time-Scapes: How do humans remember toxic landscapes? How do they relate to the longevity of toxins? And what kind of futures do they envision for these landscapes?

The workshop is part of the collaborative workshop series of the Deadly Dreams Network, The Center for the History of Global Development Shanghai, the Hazardous Travels DFG Emmy-Noether research group, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.

Please find the program here.

Read the Conference Report.

Submitted papers (for participants only; password protected):

Marco Armiero and Ilenia Lengo
Thom Davies
Maximilian Feichtner
Tora Rundhovde
Anna-Katharine Laboissiere
Jason R. Parry
May-Brith Ohman Nielsen
Mrinalini Shinde
Michael Peterson
Bettina Wahrig
Malcom Ferdinand
Iris Borowy
Sebastian Ureta, Patricio Flores, and Linda Soneryd
Astrid Kirchhof
Jesse Peterson
David Biggs
Jim Webb

If you have questions concerning the workshop please contact:
Dr. Simone M. Müller: simone.mueller@rcc.lmu.de