Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds The herbicide glyphosate, widely used on genetically modified organism crops in the form of Roundup, has been reported as the safest herbicide in history, so safe you can drink it, less toxic than aspirin. But these statements can be seen as representative of a particular worldview in which a human body is understood as independent from the more-than-human bacteria that break down food in the gut and shape human life. Glyphosate’s mode of action affects the Shikimate pathway, a metabolic route particular to bacteria, fungi, parasites, plants, and algae, a route that is not biologically a feature of human bodies, which contributes to the belief that glyphosate is not harmful to humans.
Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds However, in 2015, the World Health Organisation changed its position on glyphosate and reported that it is probably carcinogenic. The conflicting perceptions of the safety of glyphosate highlights how different imaginaries create a different sense of what is safe through contrasting perceptions of how humans and environments, including gut micro-biota, interact. The term imaginary refers to the different values, symbols, practises, and institutions, that different groups of people share. The sense of safety of glyphosate varies and is hotly contested.
Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds It depends on the imaginaries of different stakeholder groups, such as Monsanto– the major producer of glyphosate herbicides– scientists researching glyphosate– who might receive funding from chemical manufacturers– farm workers who have lymphoma, a form of cancer that they attribute to glyphosate, regulators, consumers, and anti-GMO activists. Environmental health concerns raised by glyphosate use also point towards how events, such as a cancer diagnosis, and other ways of living, are not discovered, but are actively created due to our different imaginaries and practises. Our imaginaries and practises are a form of worlding. This term worlding is used within Environmental Humanities and a range of other fields, including philosophy, digital humanities, cultural geography, and aesthetics, to acknowledge that different entities and relations emerge in different settings.
Skip to 2 minutes and 51 seconds To quote Donna Haraway– “Technology is not neutral. We’re inside of what we make, and it’s inside of us. We’re living in a world of connections– and it matters which ones get made and unmade.” There are a range of ways in which to understand, address, and ultimately engage in practises of worlding. In my art practise and research, I stage public art experiments and explore public articulations of toxic bodies— how toxins are digested, archived, and excavated, both materially and discursively, influenced by different practises of worlding.
Skip to 3 minutes and 30 seconds For example, in my artwork, “The Suburban Lawn: A 2-Hour Museum,” staged at the artist-run initiative “Serial Space” in Sydney, I included a museum display imagining a post-lawn world— a seed swap, artist talks, and wild food foraging event, led by the artist Diego Bonetto. The purpose of the project was to provoke discussion on how our suburbs might function if pesticide-soaked, grassy lawns were made to recede, and backyards turned into more productive sites, such as urban farms. Research, as a practise of worlding, involves learning how to register subtle differences, to attune oneself to other entities– as Donna Haraway might put it, to become curious about and obligated to humans and non-human others. It is an ethical practise.
Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds On ethics, Karen Barad writes, it is “not about the right response to a radically exterior/ized other, but about responsibility and accountability for the lively relationalities of becoming, of which we are a part.” Therefore, art interventions and other forms of research, as forms of worlding, are not merely a way of engaging with environmental concerns— by offering critiques or simply providing representations of the concerns— but rather, allow for engagement with ecological issues through tending to uncertainties and learning to be affected by what emerges. It is an opportunity to ask and enact what is healthy, what is safe, and for whom? An opportunity to cultivate an ethos for becoming curious, obligated, and responsible in specific situations.
Example 2: Scholarship
In this video, Susie analyses the narratives being promoted by different stakeholder groups in regard to the health impacts of the herbicide glyphosate.
Susie explains that art practice and other forms of research — as forms of storytelling or “worlding” — can promote new narratives that demonstrate greater care and concern.
- Karen Barad Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2007).
© UNSW Australia 2016