ANTH Seminar Series | Victim Regions of Pollution: Dictatorship, Chemical Violence and Transitional Justice in Post-revolutionary Tunisia
Is toxic chemical pollution a from of state violence? While in the Anthropocene all living and non-living beings are connected through industrial chemical relations, inequality, power, and politics shape the distribution of harm from noxious chemicals unto the human and non-human. Toxic pollution in other words is shaped by forms of governance.
Drawing on several cases brought to the Tunisian Truth and Dignity Commission following the ousting of Tunisia’s dictator in 2011, in which regions tried to establish themselves as ‘victims’ of the dictatorship based in full or part on industrial pollution, this presentation explores pollution as a form of violence in the context of authoritarianism.
After the fall of Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it became increasingly clear that the country had been inundated with industrial and other forms of pollution that was mostly hidden behind a facade of state environmentalism. The fact that territorial victimization was uniquely included in Tunisia’s Transitional Justice Law however allowed regions to establish themselves as ‘victim regions’ based on ‘systemic marginalization and exclusion’ by the regime.
While the transitional justice process was prematurely terminated for political reasons, these cases still provide insight into how chemical pollution can be characterized as dictatorial violence. Toxic chemical pollution is violent here in that its unequal temporal and spatial distribution organizes how life thrives and perishes.
The cases present chemical violence as intersectional, flowing from other forms of structural and physical violence perpetrated by the dictatorship, but also as embedded in a history of regionalism, colonial and developmental inequalities. They characterize violence as ‘residual’ in that it is metabolic, territorially bound and that its effects unfold long after its toxic genesis.
Chemical violence can therefore function as prism for violent forms of governance that not just captures human and non-human harm from toxic pollution, but also reaches in scale from the molecular to the regional. In a synthetic world that is increasingly flooded by chemicals the distribution of which is ever more shaped by populist and even authoritarian politics, violence is an appropriate frame for chemical pollution.
About the speaker
Siad Darwish is a sessional academic at the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Rutgers University and an MA in the Anthropology of Development from the University of Sussex. He is a development and public policy consultant and has worked as a peacebuilder focusing on gender and armed conflict.