"Economy’s Nature: Interrogating Green Chemistry from the Rust Belt"
Attend this event via Zoom (advance registration required)
Elena Sobrino, PhD candidate in History, Anthropology, and STS, MIT.
Co-sponsored by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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Seven years ago, in an attempt to speculate on the profits of a massive water infrastructure construction project, unelected leaders in the postindustrial town of Flint, Michigan adjusted the city’s water sanitation treatment, catalyzing a series of catastrophic events that contaminated the city’s water with lead and other toxins. In this talk, I investigate the potential of "green chemistry" as an analytic for the interlinked ecological and financial determinants of the Flint water crisis, their ongoing impacts, and local residents’ strategies of resistance against environmental racism. From their different contexts, Flint residents and green chemists make claims on nature to conceptualize economic dysfunction. Proponents of green chemistry try to adjust their technical skills and practices to bring a “circular economy” into existence—a system in which the molecular basis of every material and commodity is non-toxic, from creation to disposal. This talk offers a way to critically understand green chemistry as an ideology of deindustrialization pertinent to Flint’s local struggles to reimagine toxic infrastructures in the Rust Belt.
Elena Sobrino is a PhD candidate in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program at MIT. She is interested in ecological and economic change in the deindustrialized Great Lakes region of North America, with a focus on Flint, Michigan and the ongoing water crisis there. Her dissertation documents how communities of organized labor, environmental justice activism, and green chemistry each offer distinct approaches to ameliorate past, present, and future toxic harm. Her research has been supported by the Martin Family Fellowship for Sustainability, the J-WAFS Fellowship for Water Solutions, and the Wenner-GrenFoundation. She has worked in several interdisciplinary spaces aimed at understanding the connections between science, environment, and racial capitalism, including the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry at the New School for Social Research, where she was a fellow in the summer of 2019, and the Quotidian Anthropocene New Orleans field campus. Before coming to MIT, Elena worked in local crisis management during the Flint water crisis from 2015 to2016, after graduating in 2015 with a BA in cultural anthropology and music from the University of Michigan-Flint.