Manuel Tironi

Instituto de Sociología, P. Universidad Católica de Chile


Toxic lives: matters of care, politics and bio-animacy in Puchuncaví

People from Puchuncaví live, as they themselves say, ‘toxic lives’. In Puchuncaví – one of Chile’s largest industrial districts – maximum levels of lead, cyanide, sulfur dioxide and other contaminants are regularly exceeded, and stories of biological mutation, corrosion and death among plants, humans, fishes and cattle proliferate. This article is about these stories, but also about to what extent the articulation of politics, materiality and affects can be reimagined within Science and Technology Studies. Through an ethnographic account of the caring practices unfolded in Puchuncaví, I speculate about the nature of politics when provoked from the bodily experiences of harm, affection and repair. These experiences, I argue, instantiate a type of politics in which matter is not politically accounted by virtue of its democratic utilization but for the ecological enlivenment of earthly entities that, enmeshed in practices of caring and loving, engender political situations that defy the usual scales and features of public action. Drawing on the work of Chen (2012) and Whatmore (2013), I coin the term bio-animacy to account for the process by which chemicals, plants and bodies, as matters of care, are both vitalised and transformed into elements of political enquiry.