Diane Wilson: An Unreasonable Woman

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March 2, 2020 - 5:32pm

Critical Commentary

VtP Image 4 (see full photo essay)

This is the cover image of the autobiography "An Unreasonable Woman", written by Diane Wilson and published in 2005. Wilson grew up around Seadrift, TX and made a living as a shrimp fisher. More than 30 years ago, she became invested in fighting petrochemical facilities in the area, including Formosa Plastics, which opened their 2,500 acre complex in 1983.

Wilson's career as an activist is remarkable in many ways. In a 2019 interview, she recounts how learning about the high air pollution in the area – first published in light of the Bhopal disaster, right-to-know legislation and toxic release inventories (TRI) –  got her interested in knowing more. Early on,  companies she called up would refuse to hand out numbers to her and overall did not take her seriously. Later, she would engage in various civil disobedience actions, including a hunger strike and sinking her own shrimp boat on a Formosa discharge pipe. Most recently, a group of activists that she is part of won a $50 million lawsuit against Formosa; in the interview, Wilson says that she feels like it's "the first time that justice has been achieved."

The photograph is striking for her determined outlook and posture, paired with her every day (work?) clothes. It indicates a dynamic of activism in a toxic environment (in the double sense) -- e.g. not being taken seriously, being talked down to. It also points to the different stakeholders involved in the fight againstt Formosa, such as shrimpers depending on their livelihood.  

The photograph of Wilson and the re-appropriated slur of being "unreasonable" have become somewhat iconic in the protest against Formosa.  In their interview, LA-based environmental activist Brooking Gatewood mentions that she was so inspired by Wilson's work that founded an environmentalist group named "Unreasonable Women."

In late March, I will be part of a small group visiting Wilson in Texas. Including her image in this photo essay, I hope to think further about what makes the image ethnographic (in addition to and beyond autobiography) and how it could be used in contrast or comparison with other visuals across the submitted projects. 

Cite as

Diane Wilson, "Diane Wilson: An Unreasonable Woman", contributed by Tim Schütz, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 March 2020, accessed 4 December 2021.