Anthropologist Kim Fortun on the social and environmental vulnerabilities produced by industrial decline
Drawing on long-running anthropological research on the lived experience, science and politics of toxic chemicals, this presentation will explore the dynamics of today’s “late industrialism,” a historical period characterized by aging industrial infrastructure, landscapes dotted with toxic waste ponds, rising incidence of cancer and chronic disease, climate instability, exhausted paradigms and disciplines, and remarkable imbrication of commercial interests in knowledge production, legal decisions and politics at all scales. It is a period riven with hazards of many kinds, operating synergistically and cumulatively. The presentation will hightlight how late industrialism produces new vulnerabilities, and new forms and patterns of inequality. The presentation will also highlight a need for new modes of collaboration to address the problems of late industrialism, drawing together researchers from many fields (including student researchers), other citizens, and activists in legal and political arenas.
Kim Fortun is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, and on experimental ethnographic methods and research design. Her research has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to disaster vulnerability. Fortun’s book Advocacy After Bhopal Environmentalism, Disaster, New World Orders was awarded the 2003 Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society. From 2005-2010, Fortun co-edited the Journal of Cultural Anthropology. Currently, Fortun is working on a book titled Late Industrialism: Making Environmental Sense, on The Asthma Files, a collaborative project to understand how air pollution and environmental public health are dealt with in different contexts, and on design of the Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), an open source/access digital platform for anthropological and historical research. Fortun also runs the EcoEd Research Group, which turns ethnographic findings about environmental problems into curriculum delivered to young students (kindergarten-grade 12), and is helping organize both the Disaster-STS Research Network, and the Research Data Alliance’s Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group.