Luisa Cortesi, International Institute of Social Studies; Amy Zhang, NYU;
We are living in a world where slow and fast disasters of contamination and related environmental troubles are disrupting life on a regular basis and undoing expectations of safety. Research, policy, and business have turned to processes of decontamination and cleansing as a salve to facilitate life-as-usual in a toxic world. In this panel, we use the concept of 'Technologies of purification' as a heuristic for thinking through the development and deployment of techno-sciences dedicated to the rescuing of living and non-living beings that are affected by contamination. This heuristic offers a lens for examining shared rationales, procedures, and effects of technologies responsible for the removal of contaminants, as well as the extraction of resources that include processes of separation and elimination. We propose to investigate technologies and techniques for the material purification of nature moving beyond the conceptualization of purity as a symbolic system of classification and social ordering. Technologies of purification include techniques of resource making such as the processing of fossil fuels or minerals after mining and extraction, to waste management and air filtration technologies, to the purification of water in conditions of scarcity and pollution. We ask, what do technologies of purification do? What is their role in the exploitation and the securing of environmental resources? Do purification technologies uphold the idea of post-scarcity and infinity and facilitate practices of adaptation, and if so, how? Finally, how might they facilitate both the uneven distributions of toxicity and new contestations around habitability?