Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Redefining pollution: Plastics in the wild
by Liboiron, Max, Ph.D., New York University, 2013, 257; 3553962
Abstract (Summary)

Plastics and their chemicals are in every body of water and in every human body. Usual scientific measurements of toxicity, the ability to track contaminants, and causal models fore estimating long-term effects are failing to account for plastic pollution. Like many twenty-first century global environmental problems, plastic pollution seems to be an "impossible" problem because it cannot be solved through methods we have depended on in the past. Redefining Pollution: Plastics in the Wild, argues that efforts to control plastic pollution are failing because plastic pollution exceeds not only regulatory notions of what pollution is and how it works, but also because stakeholders are struggling to find ways to measure, describe, and solve plastic pollution. The excess of plastic pollution shows how contests over environmental knowledge and what can be said about the world and its objects are waged through definition work and tools of representation.

Different groups, from industry lobbyists to breast cancer activists, argue for different and often contradictory definitions of and precautions against plastic pollution. Thus, plastic pollution is not a merely a technical problem of wayward pollutants, but is also an epistemological problem for the science upon which policy and advocacy depend. This research uses scientific articles, scientists' blogs, activist campaign material, government documents, and popular news articles to analyze the insertion of publics into traditional technocratic ways of knowing about and controlling pollution. The research begins with a history of how present day regulatory definitions of pollution were created and naturalized, and how plastic is systematically defying them. It moves on to how different public stakeholder groups with environmental and health concerns are challenging definitions previously thought to be the strict prevue of science and government agencies, providing their own notions of and evidence for pollution and harm. The work concludes with a critical, scalar framework for accounting for complex socio-environmental problems and how to best align these problems with solutions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gary, Brett J.
Commitee: Gitelman, Lisa, Nagle, Robin
School: New York University
Department: Media, Culture, and Communication
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Environmental Studies, Science history
Keywords: Activism, Plastics, Pollution, Problem definintion, Scale, Science and technology studies
Publication Number: 3553962
ISBN: 978-1-267-93725-4
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