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Hybrid Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities

Thursday Lecture Series, Materiality

dateMarch 6, 2014 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Cows juxtaposed with scientific measuring equipment and letters DES

How can the environmental humanities contribute to current discussions about ecological crises? Unlike traditional perspectives within the humanities, which place humans at the center of the story and view humans as exceptional, research within the environmental humanities focuses our gaze on the agency and interconnectivity of all things. Using examples from synthetic chemical pollution, this talk will explore the utility of humanistic and historical perspectives on the environment. Understanding synthetic pollutants means reconsidering our bodies, our environments, and our human identities, seeing them not as separate isolated objects, but rather as what Bruno Latour termed hybrid networks. The hybrids we have created with chemical pollutants continue to resist our attempt to define clear boundaries between natural and synthetic, and between human and nonhuman. Synthetic pollutants are artifacts of an industrial society brought into being within a highly specific cultural infrastructure. And yet, increasingly they are a part of the natural world – and as persistent chemicals, many of them will continue to be a part of the world far into the future, beyond the point of remembering their origins as artificial or synthetic.