Issue #126 Plastic Media

Plastic Media

Heather Davis

Courtney Desiree Morris, Plant Construction Site, 2018, from the series Solastalgia, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Issue #126
April 2022

Upon first glance, the photograph may appear somewhat banal. It pictures an empty lot: a cement foundation, hedges on either side, a road in the background. It is a photo of what remains. It looks as if it might once have been a driveway, now ridden with cracks, plants pushing through. The hedge on the left retains a round shape. There are tall trees rooted in a lawn that still looks like a lawn. Was this someone’s home? A business? The move feels recent, as if, with little effort, the lot could be restored. In that animated, yet abandoned state, it seems haunted. The photo is part of the series Solastalgia by Courtney Desiree Morris. “Solastalgia” is a neologism coined by the environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. Intentionally playing off the word “nostalgia,” solastalgia refers to the distress produced by environmental change while people are still directly connected to their home environment. In other words, it describes the loss of a place in place. This is the type of loss that people are experiencing all over the world as climate change and other factors linked to extractivism rapidly reshape ecosystems through flooding or wildfires or drought or pollution. It describes how a place once familiar has been slowly made foreign. Unlike nostalgia, a loss produced by movement, it implies that there is no possibility of return. In Morris’s series, solastalgia describes the forced displacement of her grandmother’s community, Mossville, Louisiana, through plastics and other petrochemical production. While much of the focus of the environmental harms of plastic center on postconsumer practices and systems, to fully understand how plastic operates, it is necessary to examine its production, its implication with media, and the ways that plastic haunts particular bodies and geographic regions.

Plastic and Anti-Black Atmospheres

Mossville was founded in the 1790s as one of the first communities of free Black people in the South. The town was a haven for Black people throughout the backlash to Reconstruction and the Civil War and into the “1950s and ’60s as the Ku Klux Klan resurged in defiance of the civil rights movement.”1 For over two hundred years, Mossville was a site of refuge, but now it is mostly abandoned. In 2012 the South African company Sasol began the process of buying up the property of the former five hundred inhabitants to expand its petrochemical plant through a large tax break and subsidy provided by the Louisiana government. The company now has the notorious title of being the second worst “super polluter” of airborne toxicity in the United States.2

Southern Louisiana is notorious within the United States for its high concentrations of petrochemical plants. In particular, it produces much of the country’s PVC, which is transformed into shower curtains, piping, toys, signage, and traffic cones, among other things. Constitutive of contemporary infrastructures, and particularly the built environment, PVC is the most toxic of plastics produced. The building and construction sector uses 69 percent of all PVC. It is made through pyrolysis (thermal cracking) of petroleum, followed by the addition of plasticizers and stabilizers, added to create flexibility, durability, sheen, and adhesive capabilities. It is the plasticizers and stabilizers, key among them phthalic acid esters and brominated flame retardants, that can be toxic, releasing and off-gassing volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, benzene, and perchloroethylene. Owing to all these additives, PVC is nearly impossible to recycle. Because it is mostly used for durable goods, the toxicity from PVC is often localized in its production phase, transmitted through the bodies of residents near the plants, rather than being found in the wider environment, as is the case with waste disposal associated with polyethylene.3

In the Solastalgia series, the Sasol and other petrochemical plants appear in numerous photographs, like a kind of specter, hovering at the edges, in the backgrounds, with flares and lights and unknown emissions. Even before the residents were incentivized to move, the town was being transformed, undermined. The toxicity from the nearby PVC plants seeped into everything, permeating the water and air. In 1998 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry drew the blood of twenty-eight Mossville inhabitants and found that the average dioxin level among the residents was triple that of the general US population. This finding is unfortunately unsurprising owing to the fact that between 2004 and 2013, 180,644 pounds of vinyl chloride were released into the greater Westlake area, where Mossville is located.4 Presumably, this was not the first time huge amounts of vinyl chloride were discharged uncontrolled into the environment. As a result of these and other toxins, residents regularly suffered a range of health problems including cancers, diabetes, asthma, and skin ailments. It speaks to what the cultural theorist Christina Sharpe conceptualizes as the weather—that is, “the totality of our environments; the weather is the total climate; and that climate is antiblack.”5 Plastic weather is anti-Black, it renders the atmospheres of towns in Southern Louisiana unbreathable, unlivable.

This is a pattern of legislation that has been widely contested, most recently by Rise St. James, which is fighting a proposed plastic production facility in its community.6 The founder of the organization, Sharon Lavigne, makes clear the environmental racism that is behind the placement of this project and others. In her statement to the councilors in her district to request a moratorium to the proposed project, she writes,

We have observed that the only examples in recent history of facilities that have been rejected by the Parish government were those that were proposed for sites that are in communities that are majority white. To be clear, we are glad those facilities were rejected because we don’t think any community should be saddled and burdened with these toxic industries. But it is painful to see a land use map that so clearly signals the disregard of our lives and communities—one that assumes that neither we, nor our children or grandchildren, will be on this land in the not-too-distant future, clearing the way for more industry, more pollution, and more harm.7

The letter goes on to spell out, in clear and eloquent terms, the necessity for an immediate moratorium. It speaks to the ways that pollution is used as a means of dispossession, the loss of place in place as a form of anti-Black racism; it speaks to the inability to desire or imagine Black thriving communities into the future.8

The slow violence in Mossville and throughout the region accumulates and concentrates white supremacy through plastic infrastructures. Black land and bodies are forced into an “ontologized plasticity,” as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson has called it.9 The land is presumed to be there for development, for progress, for infinite and limitless transformation. The loss that happens here is a loss imposed by this violent plasticity—the land, air, and water made plastic through petrochemicals, rendered unrecognizable and unlivable. PVC distributes the effects of white supremacy in the air, water, and soil. As Denise Ferreira da Silva argues, it is impossible to understand contemporary capitalism without acknowledging the ways that it is built on, and continuous with, the project of slavery. This is particularly evident in how capitalism endures through settler colonialism as a mechanism of dispossession and dislocation by making the land itself toxic. Toxicity is justified as necessary to progress and economic growth, where some bodies are deliberately held as accumulators of toxins so that others can profit. The collusion of the Louisiana government and industry continues this legacy, where slavery was not, as Sharpe argues, a singular event but rather a singularity.10 This singularity continues, pulling into it bodies and land, here operating through plastic. Plastic’s inheritance, the wealth and supposed safety and sterility that it brings for certain people, depends on the disposability of Black, Indigenous, and poor communities.11

Here plastic is transmitted onto people and land. “Transmission” has two primary meanings. The first is associated with conveyance or transference, from one person or place to another. Chemical transmissions are also a form of transference, transferring the harms and costs of technological progress onto peoples and places at a remove from those who directly benefit. The second definition speaks more specifically to the ways in which the concept of transmission applies to mass media, where transmission often refers to light, heat, sound, and electromagnetic waves, as in a broadcast. This latter definition is taken up in media studies, where transmission describes the flow of information from source to audience. However, as many media theorists have argued, the transmission of information is often full of noise, and the audience is not without its own capacity for response, or interpretation, as Stuart Hall has made clear.12 In the process of plastic’s transmission, it has encountered a lot of resistance. The Black communities that are being dispossessed fight all the way to keep their homes and bodies safe.

Chemical Media

It is not only through the content of Solastalgia that plastic is linked to photography; photography is a medium that has always been dependent on plastics and petrochemicals. One of the first precursors to plastics as they are known today was celluloid. Celluloid was the generic name for cellulose nitrate, made from a polymerization process derived from plant material. It was originally created to replace billiard balls and was later used as an alternative to horn or ivory. But celluloid became famously associated with media technology through its use in cinema. As the journalist Stephen Fenichell remarks, “Celluloid film succeeded in raising the first plastic’s cultural profile from a medium of mere mimicry into a priceless repository of human memory.”13 Plastic becomes central, not just to the material culture of twentieth-century life, but to mass media and human memory, including in photography. Later, audiotape, vinyl, and CDs came to etch the human voice, music, and images onto various synthetic polymers. The worlds of art, representation, and imagination now rest on plastic and oil as their basic substrate. As Stephanie LeMenager writes, “Oil itself is a medium that fundamentally supports all modern media forms concerned with what counts as culture—from film to recorded music, novels, magazines, photographs, sports and the wikis, blog, and videography of the Internet.”14 Contemporary culture is saturated in oil. Moving from analog to digital did not lessen our dependence on oil or plastic; plastic constitutes approximately 17 percent of most electronic devices, including digital cameras and the computers and phones we look at photographs on. The infrastructure of digital media relies on plastic to function, as it coats the underwater and underground cables that are the invisible yet fundamental substructure of the internet. Plastic is used in these circumstances for its ability to insulate and because of its nonconductivity. For, far from being an immaterial “cloud,” the internet relies on very specific and highly material infrastructures, such as transoceanic cables and server farms, which themselves are very much dependent on the material of plastic.15 In fact, plastic constitutes the conditions of digitality, included in everything from the networked infrastructures to the hardware to the production of various photographic and display technologies. It provides the infrastructure for the offices and other buildings in which all these materials are developed and produced—from the carpeting to the paints to the desks and clothes of workers.

As plastic has become so central to communications and infrastructure, plastic operates as a logistical medium—that is, a medium that sets the “terms in which everyone must operate.”16 Plastic determines so many of our relations, including the goods we can access, the distribution of food, access to water, medical supplies, and an infinite variety of other things that arrange and regulate the movements of people and the qualities of our lives. It is a leverage point of power, distributing and amplifying other systems of inequality.

Courtney Desiree Morris, Driveway, 2018, from the series Solastalgia, 2018. Courtesy of the artist. 

Plastic as Medium

I want to suggest that plastic’s makeup in mass and digital culture, the fact that it has become the medium through which life in the twenty-first century is negotiated, involves a haunting. This is not only because of the ways that plastic transmits a violence outward, and how it shores up white supremacy, but also because of the ways it relies on the unearthing of ancient plants and animals for its basic composition. Plastic can, in this light, be thought of as a medium, communicating with long-dead organisms to make their vital presence felt among the living. The unearthed beings of fossil fuels released in our present day through vast communication networks represent these multiple hauntings, of immediate and more protracted violence, in the form of toxicities and also in the undead relations of fossil fuels themselves.

Plastic haunts in part through its ability to preserve the images and voices of those who have passed, who live on in these media, as spiritual mediums to afterworlds. Cinematic and photographic media transform into mediums that enable the long-dead plant and animal matter compressed into oil to transfer the voice of the recently or not-yet-dead. Photographic prints now use polyethylene-coated paper, polymer ink, and film that is made of a plastic base; they utilize fossil fuels as the medium through which images appear. But these long-dead organisms also transfer their own messages. In his famous discussion of the punctum—the wound of photography that grabs the attention of the viewer—the literary theorist Roland Barthes speaks of a simple family photograph of his mother as a child, viewed after her death, and insists on the utter irreplaceability of her suffering and her life. The photograph operates, Barthes argues, as a melancholic accounting of the passage of time: the subject is frozen in time, in a deathly state, through the capture of the image; we are forever looking back at a moment passed (even when that moment was a second or two ago). The photograph is a continuous reminder of the inevitable passage of time, a record of life’s passing. Yet in light of the fossil fuels that compose that image as an object, Barthes’s photograph also acts as a fold in time, collapsing and compressing present, past, and deep geological time. And also, possibly, future, as plastic does not easily decompose. Through plastic, the photographs become the medium to our loved ones, and they then transmit petrochemicals out into the land and bodies. As Barthes argues, “It is often said that it was the painters who invented Photography (by bequeathing it their framing, the Albertian perspective, and the optic of the camera obscura). I say: no, it was the chemists.”17 By stressing the way in which photography, and mass media more generally, are thoroughly engineered, and the ways that this engineering affects photography’s purpose and power, Barthes also prompts a consideration of photography’s saturation in fossil fuels.

Kodak and Its Afterlives

In Rochester, New York, Barthes’s melancholic analysis of photography can be read through the carcinogenic and other harmful legacies of the Kodak company. The images that capture our lives and that metaphorically foreshadow our passing are produced through the chemicals that have foreshortened many people’s lives and caused many deaths. There, photographs and film become a vector not only to the lives of ancestors and others who have come before but also to the legacies of toxicity, which will have untold consequences for an indeterminate period into the future.

The Kodak plant’s toxic transmissions go back decades. In 1990 Kodak paid a total of $2.15 million for chemical spills and extensive groundwater pollution because of a failure to notify the state immediately of a spill of “5,100 gallons of methylene chloride, a solvent used to make film and a suspected carcinogen, in February 1987.”18 However, despite this penalty, the company continued to pollute the air and water in the area. In 2000 Kodak was the prime contributor of dioxin, a known carcinogen, into New York’s environment, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And in 1999 Kodak was ranked “as New York State’s leading producer of recognized airborne carcinogens and waterborne developmental toxicants.”19 Since this time, the plants have shut down, but their legacies linger, like ghosts, in the air and water of the area, the molecular hauntings of the desire for a moment, through an image, to endure. The capture of a particular time and place has transferred itself into the future not simply through the medium of photography or film but as a chemical medium that endures, in the land.20 These long legacies illustrate the notion that “pollution is not just a harm in the moment but part of ongoing violence that stretches across generations, across communities, and across Land.”21

Photographic media, soaked in oil, continue to speak, to roam and to affect the people in the area, demanding to be heard. The results of these pollutants, the messages of the long-dead organisms that have become petrochemicals, find their way into the bodies of the residents, living there and mutating, apparitions that trouble the bounds of life and death, pulling living bodies into untimely ends while proliferating the lively attributes of deathly substances. Barthes’s conflation of death and photography suggests a present-moment haunting: the inability of the dead to let the living go. The petrochemicals and other toxins that were used in the Kodak factories do not simply go away with the closing of the plants themselves. Instead, the petrochemical past haunts the future, continuing to speak through whichever mediums they find, where lively petrochemicals continue to assert their presence. The toxic legacies of photography and cinema refuse to be transformed, remaining in waterways and in the air, transferring the grief of the land through the generations. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to remediate these landscapes. Instead, they will haunt future generations with imperceptible chemical threat, fading into the background, but transmitting the legacies of those that came before, much as with an old photograph.

They continue this haunting differentially, where the inheritors of the plastic project are often shielded from these negative outcomes. As Fred Moten writes, in a poignant critique of the lurking universalism in Barthes’s analysis and the ways that it utterly fails to account for differences within death, within suffering, “You need to be interested in the complex, dissonant, polyphonic affectivity of the ghost, the agency of the fixed but multiply apparent shade, an improvisation of spectrality, another development of the negative.”22 What Morris’s Solastalgia series pictures is not the suffering of photography, not the ways in which plastic is embedded in these modes of suffering through photography as a chemical medium; it instead stages the chemical medium’s excess, drawing where the photographs of Mossville are animated with a “powerfully material resistance.”23 The use of this chemical medium, the photographs that transmit so many messages between living and dead bodies, animate a powerful act of seeing a disappearance, which operates as a kind of abundance. This is an abundance of the power of the ancestors, haunting, not just in a negative sense, but as a powerful force, in particular highlighting Morris’s relationship to her ancestors, drawing on the power of her grandmother in her resistance to Sasol’s erasure of Mossville. It is not just in seeing that the resistance is staged, but in not seeing, seeing what is not there, in this form of haunting.


If we think of the petrochemicals as coming to tell us stories, to communicate their inhuman messages, we might also be invited to think about oil as a kind of grand-kin, highlighting the connection of our life force now with the lives of those long-dead organisms that appear as oil. But these more-than-human relations have been unearthed, weaponized. These are not easy relations but rather ones that disturb multiple boundaries of time, memory, the living, and the dead. Oil could be invited, as Zoe Todd asserts, as a reminder of the ancient life that came before ours, that is still a part of us, that makes our lives possible through intergenerational knowledge, through a deep indebtedness to our ancestors, through evolution. Recognizing these long-dead organisms, feeling their vibrancy, could be an invitation to a profound sense of interconnection. But these organisms have been unearthed from their resting place without their consent. As Todd writes, “To turn the massive stores of carbon and hydrogen left from eons of life in this place, weaponises these fossil-kin, these long-dead beings, and transforms them into threats to … the ‘narrow conditions of existence,’ which Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear reminds us we are bound to.”24 Instead of an invitation into an evolutionary and intergenerational acknowledgment of the ways that our lives are made possible through the knowledge and creativity of so many others, human and other-than-human alike, we have turned these potential grand-kin against themselves. They appear as specters, all their compressed time and stores of energy unloosed to wreak havoc on the living.

In a brilliant article, Eve Tuck and C. Ree compare the different versions of haunting and ghost stories in American and Japanese films. They note that in America the narrative asserts the possibility of appeasement. As long as the protagonist does the right thing, the vengeful ghost will rest at last. Once the innocent hero destroys the monster, balance will again be restored to the world. In the Japanese films, on the other hand, the ghost often cannot be appeased, and “the hero does not think herself to be innocent, or try to achieve reconciliation or healing, only mercy, often in the form of passing on the debt.”25 Instead, people are forced simply to live with these ghosts. Tuck and Ree use these two genres of horror films to talk about two different approaches to settler colonialism. In the American version of the ghost story, the settler is an innocent bystander incomprehensibly attacked by a specter that will not leave them alone. We could read this as the continuing demands for land back, reparations, or abolition that fall on the uncomprehending ears of white settlers, or the narrativization of white fragility that includes death paranoia. The Japanese narrative describes something else. It describes a reckoning with the total violence of slavery and settler colonialism. It describes the way that there is no resolution or reconciliation, only the possible hope of mercy. It describes a temporality that is indeterminate, that refuses progression, and instead asks us to sit with what has been done, understanding that the harms committed are permanent, the lives taken cannot be returned. Tuck and Ree continue: “Haunting doesn’t hope to change people’s perceptions, nor does it hope for reconciliation. Haunting lies precisely in its refusal to stop.”26 This understanding of the ongoing and insistent legacies of plastic as an extension of the ecology of white supremacy functions precisely “in its refusal to stop.” For the toxicities unearthed through plastic are not going away. The examples of southern Louisiana and the photographic practices that have also etched their marks in Rochester, New York tell of the ways that this haunting plays out in particular forms. Black and low-income communities are left with a devastating mess, a place that is no longer their place, a grief that has set into the land without a clear sense of how to clean up or move on. Plastic’s increasing production mean that these harms will become more commonplace.

Instead of turning away in horror or fear, plastic’s multiple and conflicting temporalities need to be taken seriously. Settlers need to learn the lessons of haunting, even as we are being haunted by this material that refuses to let us go. Full reparation here, carrying the meaning of the attempts to repair and also the desire to account for immeasurable loss and violence, is impossible. This does not mean that we should not be held accountable; on the contrary— accountability or reckoning may appear as a haunting. For we, white people, are certainly not innocent. Instead of moving so quickly to evade the present, producing times that circle violently forward and back, what would it mean to sit with this refusal, this total violence,
white supremacy? What might we learn if we listened to what these chemical media were transmitting?

Under the conditions of white supremacy, knowledge systems and institutions are not well versed to be attuned to these hauntings, to all that has been lost. This is especially true because the social is built on the disappearance of those losses, but these memories, these hauntings and losses, give us a much richer sense of our present moment and offer a different, I would argue, decolonial, knowledge. For haunting involves a “transformative recognition” rather than “cold knowledge.”27 To make a world otherwise will only be possible when we face what has been lost. For haunting is an animated state where this violence is making itself known. It is a forced seeing, sensing feeling of that which has been repressed, excluded, or forced out. Through the commingling of ancient beings with raced and classed bodies, this violence comes to the fore, as a refusal to stop. Avery Gordon, in her account of haunting, points to its strange potentiality: “To be haunted in the name of a will to heal is to allow the ghost to help you imagine what was lost that never even existed, really. That is its utopian grace.”28 This is a utopian grace barely recognizable as such, an opening that offers little safety but potentially some solace through lines of relation that open onto ancestors, those to come, and the more-than-human world.


Heather Rogers, “Erasing Mossville: How Pollution Killed a Louisiana Town,” The Intercept, November 4, 2015 .


David Mitchell, “Report: These 4 South Louisiana Chemical Plants are Top-10 ‘Super Polluters’ in the U.S.”, February 26, 2020 .


Roland Geyer, Jenna Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 19, 2017): 2–3.


The production of PVC is one of the most toxic processes associated with plastics. It has been widely known, since at least 1970, to produce a range of cancers. Although many people have called for the outright ban on any chlorine-based plastics production, PVC is still being produced and distributed globally.


Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press, 2016), 104.


Formosa Plastics, a Taiwan-based company, plans to build a nearly one-thousand-hectare plastics factory known as the Sunshine Project along the west bank of the Mississippi River at a cost of $9.4 billion. This was enabled by a “competitive incentive package that would include a $12 million performance-based grant to offset infrastructure costs” from the State of Louisiana (see ). The proposed plastics factory will produce ethylene glycol, polyethylene, and polypropylene for the manufacture of eco grocery bags, N95 masks, car casings, ropes, drainage pipes, artificial turf, large playground equipment, polyester fibers, and antifreeze, according to its website (see ).


Sharon Lavigne, “Request from Rise St. James for a Moratorium for New Land Use Applications,” unpublished manuscript, September 13, 2019.


Fortunately, at the time of writing, the advocacy and organizing of Rise St. James has been making a significant impact, as a motion in district court in late 2020 suspended the company’s air permits, citing concerns over environmental racism. This is a deeply significant ruling, disrupting the ways that environmental racism has gone unchecked in the region for so long. It is hard not to read this ruling as influenced by the ongoing work of local environmental justice advocates coupled with the Black Lives Matter uprising in the summer of 2020. David J. Mitchell, “Judge Delays Crucial Permit for Formosa Plastics Plant; Requires Deeper Analysis of Racial Impacts,” The Advocate, November 18, 2020 .


Jackson, introduction to Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (NYU Press, 2020).


Sharpe writes: “Emancipation did not make free Black life free; it continues to hold us in that singularity. The brutality was not singular; it was the singularity of antiblackness.” Sharpe, In the Wake, 106.


Ferreira da Silva writes that white people’s self-actualization depends on Black fungibility. Here, we can read the production of plastic as a mode of white self-actualization, engaged in anti-Black acts of dispossession and dissemination of ill-health. Denise Ferreira da Silva. “1 (life) ÷ 0 (blackness) = ∞ − ∞ or ∞ / ∞: On Matter beyond the Equation of Value,” e-flux journal, no. 79 (February 2017) .


Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (Routledge, 1993).


Stephen Fenichell, Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century (Harper Business, 1996), 63.


Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford University Press, 2014), 6.


On transoceanic cables, see Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network (Duke University Press, 2015), for a detailed examination of the conflictual role of cables as the central relays of the internet. For a critical appraisal of the use of oil and other potential toxic materials in digital technologies, see Sean Cubitt, Finite Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technologies (Duke University Press, 2017), especially 35–46, the section on oil in relation to energy and media production.


John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (University of Chicago Press, 2015), 37.


Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 1981), 80.


Robert Hanley, “Eastman Kodak Admits Violations of Anti-Pollution Laws,” New York Times, April 6, 1990 .


Michael I. Niman, “Kodak’s Toxic Moments,” Alternet, May 28, 2003 .


In their decolonial feminist analysis of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Reena Shadaan and Michelle Murphy organize their critique not around chemicals and bodies but around Land and bodies, privileging Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee teachings. They write, “We use capital L ‘Land’ in this paper to indicate an understanding of land that is not commensurate with territory or earth, but rather includes nonhumans, ancestors, future generations and ‘all our relations’ stretching both backward and forward in time.” Reena Shadaan and Michelle Murphy, “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) as Industrial and Settler Colonial Structures: Towards a Decolonial Feminist Approach,” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 6 no. 1 (2020): 24. Land points to both philosophy and governance of Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, and other Indigenous peoples of the lower Great Lakes region and how those were actively and deliberately disrupted through settler colonialism. Pollution can be understood within this framework as the continuation of the dispossession of Land.


Shadaan and Murphy, “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals,” 10.


Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 196.


Moten, In the Break, 198, emphasis in original.


Zoe Todd, “Fish, Kin and Hope: Tending to Water Violations in amiskwaciwâskahikan and Treaty Six Territory,” Afterall, no. 43 (Spring–Summer 2017), 104.


Eve Tuck and C. Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting,” in Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacey Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams and Carolyn Ellis (Left Coast Press, 2013), 641.


Tuck and Ree, “Glossary,” 642.


Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 8.


Gordon, Ghostly Matters, 57.

Nature & Ecology
Blackness, Decolonization, Pollution & Toxicity
Return to Issue #126

Excerpted from Heather Davis, Plastic Matter (Duke University Press, 2022). Copyright Duke UP.

Heather Davis is an assistant professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College, The New School. She is a member of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists, who investigate and make visible plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Davis has written widely for art and academic publications on questions of contemporary art, politics, and ecology, and has lectured internationally. She is the coeditor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies and editor of Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada.


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