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Toxic space and time: slow violence, necropolitics, and petrochemical pollution

Davies, Thom



This article explores how time interacts forcefully with the experience of living within toxic spaces. Through ethnographic research and interviews with residents of a contaminated town in Louisiana, the article unpacks the uncertain temporalities of industrial pollution and potential means of resistance. Putting Mbembe's (2003) postcolonial treatise on necropolitics in conversation with Nixon's (2011) work on slow violence, the article examines the racialized, uneven, and attritional experience of petrochemical pollution in a former plantation landscape. By exploring the necropolitics of place, the article reveals how unjust exposure to toxic chemicals creates contemporary “death-worlds” that are experienced in temporally uncertain and constricting ways. The oppressive nature of uncertain temporality makes the material assemblages of petrochemical infrastructure daily environmental concerns. Yet by focusing on the lived experience of communities inhabiting this toxic geography, the article notes how witnessing gradual changes to the local environment has become a barometer for perceiving chronic pollution. The idea of “slow observation” is posited as a useful counterpoint to slow violence and the permanent wounding of toxic pollution. Slow observation is an important aspect of living with sustained environmental brutality and offers a potential means of political resistance and doing undone environmental justice.


Davies, T. (2018). Toxic space and time: slow violence, necropolitics, and petrochemical pollution. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(6), 1537-1553.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 14, 2018
Publication Date Nov 2, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 29, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 29, 2018
Journal Annals of the American Association of Geographers
Print ISSN 2469-4452
Electronic ISSN 2469-4460
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 108
Issue 6
Pages 1537-1553
Keywords Cancer Alley, environmental justice, necropolitics, petrochemicals, slow violence
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Peer Review Statement: The publishing and review policy for this title is described in its Aims & Scope.; Aim & Scope:


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