Workshop 'Bodies at stake: Occupational and environmental poisons in industrial societies (late 18th-21st c.)


This workshop aims to bring together scholars in History, humanities and the social sciences to explore the issues of knowledge, identification, categorization and regulation of poisons in the industrial and post-industrial societies. Environmental studies are a booming field of research obviously linked to the growing global environmental concern, to which we would like to connect history of science, social, economic and labour history, in order to envisage broadly how societies deal with ubiquitous substances which affect human and animal health. From old metallic substances used in industrial processes, as lead, arsenic or mercury, to the omnipresent plastics and the newly born chemicals, the field is wide to question the way the industrial societies cope with toxins and toxicants, both in the workplace and in the environment.

The workshop will address a number of issues including: – What are the changing definitions of « poisons », from medical and forensic knowledge to a broader conception of harmfull substances used in industry and existing in the environment? – Who talks about poisons? To what extent and in which conditions and contexts substances used on human and animal bodies are alternately considered as poisons and as therapeutic drugs? – To what extent societies do accomodate to their toxical environment? How growing scientific and lay knowledge on toxins and toxicants meet the general enthusiasm for industrialisation process in the 19th and 20th c.? Do wars, encouraging the use of toxic products as weapons, give an impetus to their usual practice in civilian life? – What are the respective and mutual influences of occupational and environmental concerns? How does one impacts on the other in raising public attention or political regulation? – What are the respective time lines for disclosing the poisons and are the stakeholders and whistleblowers similar in these two fields? What does dis-industrialisation process modify to the disclosure and handling of industrial poisons and how do actual societies deal with toxicity as a specific industrial heritage? – How can we question the segmentation/fragmentation of definition, regulation and decision making (local, national, transnational), in order to highlight the long-lasting invisibility of poisons in the public sphere? To what extent one poison can hide the others and one mobilisation make invisible the others?

John Christie (Oxford University), Claas Kirchhelle (Wolfson College), May-Brith Ohman-Nielsen (University of Agder, Norway), Arnaud Page (Université Paris-Sorbonne), Iva Peša (Oxford University), Viviane Quirke (Oxford Brookes), Judith Rainhorn (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/MFO), Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS-MFO), Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes)


Audience: Open to all


Environmental HumanitiesTORCH Programmes