Monday workshop
Monday, December 4, 2017 - 3:30pm

337 Claudia Cohen Hall
(Please bring a photo ID with you in order to enter the building.)

Etienne Benson, Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

How We Become Environed: Toxic Risks. Evolutionary Theory, and the Transformation of American Environmentalism

This talk situates the American environmental movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in a longer history of techniques and theories of the environed organism. It argues that the modern environmental movement emerged when scientific techniques such as paper chromatography and animal tests for carcinogenicity were used to materialize new kinds of toxic risks, and when those toxic risks were framed as evolutionary threats to the human species and to life as a whole. At a political moment of consumer capitalism, liberal humanism, and apocalyptic geopolitics, environmentalists used these techniques and theories to articulate a new kind of political subject: a singular humanity uniformly threatened by the toxic byproducts of industrial progress. Politically compelling to many white middle-class Americans, this articulation of the environment and the environmental subject was challenged in the 1980s by the environmental justice movement, which offered an alternative set of environmental techniques and imaginaries that were more sensitive to social difference. Situating both mainstream environmentalism and the environmental justice movement within a longer history of techniques and theories of the environed organism, the talk argues, clarifies what they shared, how they differed, and what kinds of legacies they offer to environmentalist thought today.