ChemicalYouth team at the AAA 2016 in Minneapolis

Held from November 16-20, 2016, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) 115th annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN, United States proved to be a productive event for the ChemicalYouth team as a number of team members presented papers in three different panels, two of which the team co-organized together with colleagues in various universities. Here are the three panels and their respective abstracts, alongside the team members who participated:

Chemical Permeations and Relations

November 17, 2016

Organizer: Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Lead Investigator, Chemical Youth Project)
Chair: Emilia Sanabria (Ecole Normale Superieure, France)
Discussant: Nicolas Shapiro (Chemical Heritage Foundation)

Team members who presented / their presentations

  • Swasti Mishra: Cultivating Serotonin – on Competing Efficacies in Psychedelic Practices
  • Mariana Rios: Affected Bodies - Navigating Toxicity in Everyday Life
  • Daan Kamps: Olfactory Mediations: Chinese Shiling Oil Practices in Paramaribo
  • Lisanne Claessens: Breaking Bread – Tracing Chemical Flows in Amsterdam’s Metabolism
  • Tait Mandler: Chemical Maneuvers: Contradictions in the Production of Pleasurable Spaces By Queer Nightlife Workers
  • Nastasha Roels: Sensing Heat – on Drinking Circles and Thermal Balance in North Sulawesi

Panel Abstract

Our everyday lives are ever more shaped and mediated by a bewildering diversity of chemicals: toxics, pharmaceuticals, vitamins, cosmetics to name just a few. How can anthropologists make sense of these chemical regimes of living, and understand the processes and mechanisms by which we encounter, digest, transform, experience, and resist chemicals? Chemicals are designed and crafted to very specific ends, a process that draws on a wide range of knowledges concerning their efficacy. Their manufacture and marketing creates specific affective attachments and engagements. In this panel we bring together presentations that ask: How can we understand their permeability across spaces and time? What kind of practices are involved in making chemical processes ‘visible’? What alternative ways of knowing (sensorial, affective, distributed, kinaesthetic, other) could enhance our understandings of chemical encounters and embodied regimes? The papers brought together in this panel ethnographically explore chemical relations and reflect on the techniques employed for making chemical effects measurable or otherwise intelligible. Taking chemicals’ ‘fluidity’ as a starting point, the panel presents ethnographic case studies that critically engage with the dichotomy between the inside and the outside of bodies, and the sociomaterial, affective, bodily, sensorial constellations in which chemical relations emerge and are made sense of. The papers gathered here take as point of departure the idea that chemicals do not produce universal biological effects as clinical researchers and drug regulators often assume, thus moving away from the static categories and understandings implied by such understandings of efficacy. In so doing, this panel paves a way to creatively explore what a chemical turn in anthropology would look like.

The Chemical Refrain

November 18, 2016

Organizers: Nicolas Shapiro (Chemical Heritage Foundation) and Eben Kirksey (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Chairs: Eben Kirksey (University of New South Wales, Australia) and Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University)
Discussants: Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands) and Vanessa Agard-Jones (Columbia University)

Team members who presented / their presentations

  • Emilia Sanabria: Chemical Relations and Mediations – Challenges to Anthropological Practice

Panel Abstract

Chemicals have become ethnographic objects. Anthropologists are exploring questions related to materiality, toxicity, neurochemistry, abdication of the state, and the legacy of industrial capitalism (see i.e. Dumit 2012, Jain 2013, Shapiro 2015, Pine 2014). Novel sensing technologies, and collaborations with intellectual allies in other disciplines, are allowing ethnographers to explore the politics of visibility/invisibility, processes of corrosion, and the presence of chemical “species” in water, soil, air, and human bodies (Public Lab 2016). With an increasing appreciation of the simultaneously intimate and planetary molecular exchanges that implicate anthropogenic emissions in atmospheric, oceanic, botanic and geologic chemistry, scholars are reconsidering not just what counts as life (Yousuff 2013) but how we govern the boundary between life and non-life Povinelli (2015). Rather than just study chemicals as indicators and agents of deleterious change, ethnographers have also considered how initiatives like pharmaceutical bioprospecting or fracking monitoring programs has displaced pressing community concerns, foreclosed imaginative horizons, and delimited conversations to the priorities of scientists and policy makers (Hayden 2003). The “chemical turn” is allied with the “speculative turn” in anthropology (Stengers 2011, Ingold 2013, Dumit 2014), in that it is exploring the material-and-dreamworld-making power of chemistry. Drawing on interdisciplinary conversations in Science and Technology Studies (STS), as well as the Environmental Humanities, this panel will be a forum for thinking through the promises and perils of thinking chemically, not just to celebrate chemistry but to think critically about what slippages occur when we focus on the molecular register and clamber towards “new techniques” making knowledge about age-old socio-material fault lines. Across landscapes of chemical extraction, consumption, and reformulation our papers set into motion the molecular valances of material ecologies, self-determination, regimes of capital accumulation and the form social change. The paradoxes through which shelter becomes exposure, in the case of everyday domestic formaldehyde exposure, and the religation of aboriginal freedom to terrains of contamination, in the case of toxic sovereignty, add chemical credence to recent refinements in our understanding of biopolitcs and the spatiality of abandonment. Across four continents we document the variable plasticity and rigidity of chemical infrastructures, neurochemical selfhood, and anthropological theories of materiality.

Young Bodies and Minds: Psychoactive Substances and High Performing Selves

November 19, 2016

Organizer: Anisha Chadha (New York University)
Chair: Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Discussant: Helena Hansen (New York University)

Team members who presented / their presentations

  • Efenita Taqueban: Self-Enhancers in the Time of Precarity: Young Women Workers in a Southern Philippine Boomtown
  • Moritz Berning: Harm Reduction from below? – on Sharing and Caring in Drug Use
  • Piera Talin: Healing Drug Addiction with the Brew: An Ethnography of Ayahuasca Rituals in Italy


Panel Abstract

This panel will explore how “millennials” are using or rejecting chemical substances in order to reinforce an image of the ideal young adult professional person. Contributors will present diverse ethnographic accounts to shed light on how notions of chemical use are dependent on “ideals” regarding masculinity, ethnicity, and economic advantage. Taking psychoactive drugs, young adults, labor, and temporality as starting vectors, panelists will query what makes for accepted or rejected substance use in different contexts. While psychoactive substances might be thought to only affect the brain capacities of young adults, they are often crucially implicated in embodied labor as well. Panelists will comment on the separations or conjunctions of mind and body that are necessary to understand substance use in their respective field sites. In conversation with each other, these papers will shed light on the ways in which experimenting with drugs gives rise to holistic forms of personhood. In other words, panelists will comment on how studying psychoactive substance use leads to increased understanding beyond the individual mind or body, and speaks rather to larger social, political, and economic considerations. Key questions include: How can we study attitudes toward psychoactive substances to understand new standards in embodied and/or cognitive labor? How are drug subjectivities dependent on changing political-economic considerations under neoliberal capitalism? What are potential considerations regarding addictions, violence, harm or benefits that result from such substance use? What can studying substance use in these various contexts tell us about the forms of personhood young adults strive to achieve? And how are mind-body dualisms critical in understanding how psychoactive drugs are used for various forms of labor? This panel takes as its point of departure the assertion that drug use serves as important window through which to understand how people relate to themselves and each other bodily, mentally, socially and economically. In doing so, it will reflect on substance use to compare ideas about the ideal worker, work, and lifestyle to contribute to discussions in medical anthropology, the anthropology of gender, and anthropology of the body.