School of Geography - Theses

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    Following pesticides in disposal: a chemical geography
    Balayannis, Angeliki ( 2018)
    The world is overflowing with the discards of twentieth century chemistry. Industrial chemicals are unruly materials, transgressing spatial and temporal boundaries – found accumulating even in the vast depths of the Mariana Trench. Yet geography has largely taken the materialities of these chemicals for granted. The discipline has a long tradition of researching materials and material cultures, however, the things examined are largely limited to stuff that is visible, stable, touchable, familiar, and coherent. This thesis aims to extend conceptualisations of materiality within human geography by examining the material geographies of pesticides in disposal. It pursues an object of analysis that is incoherent, volatile, mobile, highly distributed, and persistent. This thesis considers the after-lives dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – better known as DDT. This Nobel Prize-winning pesticide is both celebrated and condemned for its persistence and toxicity. This thesis assembles the material biography of an obsolete DDT stockpile: 250 tonnes of banned, expired, and damaged pesticides with an elusive origin. Obsolete pesticides have been identified by environmental organisations such as the Green Cross as one of the most toxic threats to life on earth. Yet the disposal of pesticides has been overlooked within the social sciences; questions of how stockpiles emerge and what processes are involved in their management have yet to be considered. This thesis uses a follow-the-thing methodology to trace the residues of this DDT stockpile across space and time through unending processes of disposal. The multi-sited ethnography spans five countries and two continents, assembling the material biography of an object that extends over three decades. In following the life of this stockpile, three key processes of disposal emerged: storage, removal, and incineration. This thesis is structured around these three hotspots of activity. The life of the stockpile is narrated through process stories that are attuned to the everyday practices of pesticide disposal. Two broad interconnected arguments are forwarded in this thesis: first, that disposal is always incomplete; the residues of this stockpile linger and accumulate in the bodies and places they come to inhabit. And second, that although disposal is materially impossible, pesticides can be erased representationally – in ways that conceal the ongoing and uneven material histories of industrial chemistry. This thesis expands human geography’s material repertoire, and in doing so enables new sites, practices, processes, and material politics of disposal to emerge. It ontologically re-imagines pesticides and offers a methodological approach for considering industrial chemicals through their residues, in both material and representational terms. This thesis ultimately demonstrates how representation comes to matter in material geographies, and the ways that the repetitiveness of disposal has cumulative effects with significant ethical repercussions.