This is a great ethnographic artifact. The image reads as a highly techincal rendering of a toxic place, with some reference to geological and logistical features. Your caption adds credence to the sense one gets looking at the map that only a somewhat specialized audience can look at and appreciate the data in this map. "Who is doing whose job," you ask, and I wonder, who is actually reading this map, and the footnotes and glossary and appendices buried in the prohibitively long report you describe? Does this map actually become an actionable artifact for the citizen scientists in your fieldsite?
People try to put an end to toxicity. Societies that are struggling to survive in capitalism try to convince themselves that there are cases where we can stop toxicity. Reality is that once it starts it goes on. It reveals itself differently through time, but it doesn’t go away. This image shows a common story of environmental injustice, and who is seen as an “ideal” resident of a toxic site that fails to speak truth to its real toxic past.
Scientists are constantly “measuring” toxicity, and a lot of times it’s the only way to prove toxicity. Sometimes the measurements even need to exceed a certain amount to be taken seriously. This visual talks about the toxicity captured by the senses as the author puts it. Our bodies can also “measure” toxicity.
The artifact talks about processes of decontamination of area where there is thin distinction between forest and farms. Moreover, it furthers the understandings of histories and indeginous knowledge about the contamination and decontamination of the areas. Here, the ideas of toxcities are rooted in the local knowelges and histories.
This visualization is a means of rendering toxicity visible, which seen in relation to the other image of the language used by developers to obscure the toxic reality of the site is striking.
This photo is one of only a few images that include African American pioneers in the “settler” story of Los Angeles. By including this image--front and center--the contributor is making visible a different narrative and history of LA at this particular time and space. In many ways the archive is haunted by this absence and the contributor is asking the question, what does it mean to make this history visible? What does it mean to do so now?
The artifact indirectly talks about social toxcities through the events of evictions, shut downs, etc. Moreover, the spatialization of events highlight the nature of specific locations and their interconnections.
The visualization and caption indicate how toxicity is often about choices that people make, and that toxicity can be layered and multidimensional (social, physical, geographical, environmental, etc.). The visualization gives off a sense of the multiple forms of labor taking place in the site, and the precarity of a space that is so vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Yet the toxicity of leaving the place is even more unbearable to the people who identify themselves with the blue spaces, and so they select to stay despite the dangers involved. Yet by building the structures deemed necessary to protect people from the effects of tsunamis (seawalls), this in turn blocks off the very people who depend on the sea for their well-being as well as hurts animal habitats. The message is one of precarity and choicemaking in a toxic place.
This image is quite powerful and accompanied by the caption it presents a complex ethnographic case. Are we perhaps in front of different definitions of toxicity? The scientific assessment of river toxicity seems to be opposed to people's assessment of it, is sacred waste considered to be toxic by people of the Godavari, or is it toxic to keep the sacred waste near their homes? This case is quite interesting and can find parallels among other societies who have deep concerns for issues of purity and pollution, the practice of disposing sacred waste (normally plants that have been used in rituals) in the rivers is also seen among Amazonian people.
I found the caption evocative and it educated me about the study site while also contextualizing the discourses at work. The contextualization was necessary for me as a foreigner to get a clearer sense of the racial politics in the USA, and particularly at this study site. The most powerful ethnographic insight generated for me was how what can at first appear to be a convivial representation can be in fact deeply informed by an historically persistent binary logic of clean/unclean, purity/danger, subject/object, inclusion/exclusion, etc. that underwrites what is a violent white supremacist place-making.