Confronting Legacies of Toxic Goodness: Speculative Reflections from the 4S 2021 Annual Meeting

The logo of the 4S 2021 conference: thin black lines in a dense tangle overlay abstract color blocks in yellow, orange, and turquoise.

This piece was originally posted on November 24, 2021 on the EnviroSociety blog here. To cite, please use the following: Caporusso, Jessica, Duygu Kaşdoğan, and Katie Ulrich. 2021. “Confronting Legacies of Toxic Goodness: Speculative Reflections from the 4S 2021 Annual Meeting.” EnviroSociety Blog, November 24. Renewable energies, green/blue/bio-economies, waste management systems, as well as sustainable agriculture and aquaculture hold within them the possibility of working towards a “Greater Good,” however, “goodness” is frequently built on toxic colonial and capitalist processes that are rendered invisible through sustainability discourse. How can good practices, relationships, and things be cultivated in an environment where toxicants, toxic politics, and toxic relationalities are constantly reproduced? How do toxic production systems—based on extractivism, colonialism, and plantation capitalism—foment new forms of sustainability that cannot be excised from these deadly foundations? (read more...)

A placard from a climate change protest with "Disabled people for future!" written on it with a small size disability icon on bottom left of the placard and a small size world on fire icon on bottom right of it

Moving Towards Disability

December 3rd is the UN’s International Day for People with Disabilities. The theme of 2021 was “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. Of course, 2021 has hardly been a post-COVID world; and the social and health effects of the pandemic continue to place people with disabilities at risk. According to the UN, days of recognition work to celebrate, educate, and ‘mobilize political will’ ( These days of recognition are often for complex problems and, as CASTAC’s 2020 post says, the next question is What Happens The Day After? (Borodina 2020). This year I would like to present a brief case for how and why we, in STS and anthropology, can take up Disability as a lived reality and analytic for our work. I discuss disability as a category and its implications and then present two possible frameworks for its incorporation. (read more...)

Photomontage of newspaper articles and photos thematically united around the topic of unemployment

Insights on Entrepreneurship and Non-Salaried Labor in Latin America

The problem of unemployment and underemployment in Argentina emerges as acutely pressing and very complex. The National Institute of Statistics and Censuses’ last report on Argentina shows some relevant data. 27.4% of 12 million of the economically active Argentinian population are non-salaried workers. At the same time, the unemployment rate is at 9.6%, and underemployment is at 12.4%. 40.6% of the population lives below the “poverty line” (INDEC, 2021). In 2017-2018, when I conducted field research in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian government had accrued significant debt with the International Monetary Fund, leading to profound economic and social adjustment policies, thus exacerbating these already pressing issues. Understanding the problem of the economic disenfranchisement of the Argentinian population is, however, a challenging task. Take, for example, the internationally acclaimed reports from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, known to reproduce hegemonic neoliberal ideology. Although informal work, self-employment, and unemployment feature (read more...)

Enigmas of Corporeal Justice: Surrogacy and Legality in India

Over the last two decades, India has become a popular global destination for what is commonly referred to as reproductive tourism, wherein clients travel from one part of the world to another to seek biomedical interventions to help them have children. Breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technologies (ART), such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), have led to a boom in surrogate pregnancies as a means of having children, with international clients (mostly from the Global North) flocking to countries in the Global South, like India, to avail of these services. Like much of the medical tourism industry, this movement is motivated by access to state-of-the-art medical facilities, skilled professional care, along with remarkably low costs and the availability of poor bodies to extract from. (read more...)

A word cloud linking the frequency with which the words were used is reflected in the words in the depiction. It is dominated by the words "emotional", "cramps", and "breasts". The words "swings", "tender", "bloating", "acne", and "swings" were also popular.

Who Decides What We Measure in Health Tech?

At present, there are several problems in women’s health that still remain poorly characterized and understudied. In my research on one such issue, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), it is clear that one of the largest challenges is for studies to capture the complexity of women’s and cycling people’s experiences – a challenge which, up until now, science has struggled to resolve. [1] (read more...)

Man performing experiment near fireplace; others watch carefully

Alchemy, Metallurgy, and Modern Chemistry in Post-Medieval Europe: An Intersection of Archaeological Science and the History of Science

What is the first image conjured up in your mind by the word “alchemy”? Influenced by popular culture, it is tempting to picture: somewhere in Renaissance Europe, in a dark dungeon, groups of alchemists fiddling with crucibles over some “book of secrets,” on a quest for the philosophers’ stone, and in pursuit of “transmutation” (i.e. making gold). The exclusivity and secrecy behind alchemy seem to suggest alchemy was the opposite of enlightenment, progress, and modern science. However, there are increasing numbers of studies indicating otherwise (e.g. Martinón-Torres and Rehren, 2005; Martinón-Torres, 2012; Mongiatti, 2009; Veronesi et al., 2021). The practice of alchemy could be more scientific, methodical, and industrial than people have previously imagined. In fact, before 1753, the words “chemistry” and “alchemy” were synonymous (Martinón-Torres and Rehren, 2005). (read more...)

Three goats are being handled by four fieldworkers.

The Shitty Affairs of British Colonialism in Malaya: Manicuring “Native” Agriculture through Race-Specific Livestock Interbreeding

In January 2020, I accidentally came across a series of photographs at the UK National Archives documenting agricultural and livestock experimentation in 1930-1940s British Malaya. The peculiarity of these photographs was striking. British Malaya was infamous for a rigid racial division of displaced and relocated labor in the service of colonial extraction, with Chinese laboring in tin mines and Indians working on plantations. The Malays, indigenous communities of Malaya, were marginalized from colonial extractive industries based on the racialized myth of the “lazy native,” depicted as cultivators of padi (rice fields). Instead, these photographs depicted Indian, Malay, and Chinese as farmers or agricultural assistants operating in different sectors of the small-scale “native” agriculture of Malaya. These photographs aim to capture agricultural and livestock improvement techniques, such as plot flattening, budgrafting, or interbreeding, and are most often succinctly described in reference to food productivity, profitability, and technical innovation in the field of small-scale agrarian and animal husbandry practices. (read more...)

Person wearing green scrubs, surgical mask, protective eyewear and hair cover with gloves moving a computer mouse.

Co-signature Event Context: Toward a Participatory Electronic Health Record

The days of doctors scratching illegible notes in charts fated to hide in obscure files never read by another soul is long gone. Over the last two decades, paper charts have nearly disappeared as the evolution of the electronic health record (EHR) has come to dominate the healthcare environment not only in the US, but globally. The health record performs multiple types of labor. It serves to facilitate communication in medical care or research; it is a legal document and a record to justify billing. A new diagnosis and billing code must make its first entry into the medical record accompanied by the signature of a clinician authorized to determine this diagnosis. After this initial entry, non-professional personnel may then use this diagnosis for any of the above purposes (communication, billing, legal). This blog post explores how developments like the patient portal of the EHR create new opportunities for interpretation, (read more...)