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Excessive Seas

Waste Ecologies of Eutrophication

Time: Fri 2020-10-16 13.00

Location: Register in advance for this meeting:, Du som saknar dator/datorvana kan kontakta Nina Wormbs för information /, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: History of Science, Technology and Environment

Doctoral student: Jesse Peterson , Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö, Environmental Humanities Laboratory / ENHANCE

Opponent: Professor Kate Rigby, Bath Spa University

Supervisor: Associate Professor Sabine Höhler, Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö

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This dissertation researches how perspectives in western industrial societies communicate about and give meaning to environmental degradation through case studies on the causes and effects of cultural eutrophication—namely nutrient pollution, algal blooms, and dead zones—in the Baltic Sea. Utilizing this approach, this dissertation addresses the ecological problems of cultural eutrophication in marine ecosystems by exposing normative claims humans make about the Baltic Sea and its contents as well as detailing how seas that exceed human expectations may offer insights into negotiating differing perspectives, discrepancies in power, and ways of being among humans and non-humans in marine environments. 

In the introduction, the dissertation develops the concept and study of “waste ecology” and then interrogates several concepts related to water, nutrients, algal blooms, and dead zones. Chapter 1 then provides an environmental humanities theoretical and methodological frame which outlines the use of more-than-human ethnography, textual and visual analyses, and storying to assess ways that people value, order, and assign meaning to cultural eutrophication’s consequences in the following five chapters. These chapters explore whether or not the Baltic Sea can die, how nutrients get depicted as pollution, how an “algal perspective” might reframe human relationships to algal blooms, how algal monitoring efforts contribute to a myth that humans can remain separate from nature, and how narratives of environmental collapse depend upon what collapse means and for whom respectively. A final chapter concludes the dissertation, summarizing what the previous chapters might tell us about human relationships to seas besot by cultural eutrophication as well as how a lens of waste ecology might be applied for reorienting these relationships. 

The dissertation contributes to research and public discussions by providing grounds for critically re-evaluating human relationships to marine environments. It reveals normative material-semiotic assumptions about the Baltic Sea and its ecology and details social and cultural responses to threats that rupture such assumptions and analyses them, showing how these responses attribute varying degrees of value to certain ecological processes, plants and animals, and the sea. It argues for suspending judgment about environmental change while also critically reflecting on efforts that characterize the “environment” as insufficiently capable of handling human activities. Through this research, the dissertation decenters a human exceptionalist tendency to posit that only humans create waste, arguing that waste is co-created with and through (marine) environments and that degradation is not a result of fragility in nature as much as a failure of or lack of imagination in social and cultural organization.