Searching in Aluminum's Shadows: Black Geographies and Industrial Toxicity Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Vasudevan, Pavithra
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • This dissertation examines the convergence of anti-Black racism and toxic wastes in Badin, North Carolina, an aluminum company town that is the site of an environmental justice struggle today. The project examines how residents experience, interpret and negotiate living with racialized toxicity, and what these experiences teach us about racial capitalism. I find that toxicity intimately binds race to waste through disconcertingly familial relations in the factory, everyday practices of caregiving, and distorted environmental relations. I argue that survival in the context of racialized violence is a form of “domestic geopolitics” that challenges the internal colonialism of the U.S. state through gendered social reproductive practices that attend to the everpresent threat of premature deaths, translate lived experiences of suffering into forms recognizable to the state, and enact radical forms of community care. I put forward an alternate approach to reflexive scholarship, that understands suffering as a material relationship that implicates us all, and calls for building solidarities across oppressive cleavages that unevenly produce racialized suffering. This research draws on feminist political geography, political ecology and critical Marxist understandings of capitalism, bringing them into conversation with Black radical and feminist studies, feminist science studies and new materialist scholarship. My work suggests that toxicity is a distinct form of racism that operates at a molecular scale, complicating Black relations with science and the state, and raising questions about how to achieve racial and environmental justice when toxicity permeates bodies, landscapes and everyday life. This project seeks to redress the erasure of Black experience from histories of aluminum production, a form of activist scholarship that engages critical theoretical work in conversation with community organizing. The project includes a research play, “Race and Waste in an Aluminum Town,” which draws on interview excerpts, observation of community meetings, and archival materials to validate residents’ lived experiences of racialized toxicity and share these insights with broader publics.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Smith, Sara
  • Ahuja, Neel
  • Cravey, Altha
  • Kirsch, Scott
  • Alexander Craft, Renée
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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