Work in Progress

Alterlife in the Ongoing Aftermaths of Chemical Exposure

Global biomonitoring studies have found industrially produced chemicals in the blood and breast milk of every living person tested, suggesting that all humans, and perhaps most life forms, have been materially altered by the absorption of such human-invented chemicals released over the last century.  Emerging research in environmental epigenetics and related scientific fields have traced how the effects of such chemical exposures can produce effects that persist across generations in the health of future children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond.  This research project concerns the status of  living in a historic moment when life on earth unevenly shares condition of already having been altered by human-made chemicals, a condition that might be called alterlife.  Alterlife names a historically new form of life that is altered by the chemical violence of capitalism and colonialism.

The Alterlife in the Ongoing Aftermaths project works towards decolonial approaches to understanding chemical exposures in the lower Great Lakes, which is Anishinaabe and Haudenoshaunee land. The project is organized around three concerns. First, creating non-damage based accounts of chemical violence while still attending to the ways chemicals are part of the infrastructures of settler colonialism, racism, and capitalism that concentrate and distribute destructions and benefits. Second, finding critical and creative ways of using environmental data to hold governments and petrochemical companies responsibile for environmental violence.  Third, expanding our understanding of industrial chemicals, and especially endocrine disrupting chemicals, to view them as structures, not molecules, that extend in time and disrupt land/body relations. This includes attending to the intergenerational and looping temporalities between many pasts and possible futures as a way to rethink the politics of chemicals.

And fourth, the condition of alterlife invites us to attend to the possibility of alternative life forms, of life otherwise, and of future survival.  Contemporary environmental politics is replete with apocalyptic anxieties, and descriptions of doomed and damaged communities.  The Great Lakes region is rich with counter-histories and alter-futures within theories, art, and practices. This project develops the notion of alterlife in engagement with Indigenous futurities and  against doomsday temporalities and colonial timescapes. It strives to foster approaches that amplify decolonial, reparative, and feminist potentials about a future of resurgence.

This research is SSHRC funded.

Listen to “Alterlife in the Aftermath” in Panel 1 at the Engineered Worlds conference at the University of Chicago (October 2015) organized by Joseph Masco. 

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