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ConfusedBecauseExposed TowardsanEthnographyofEnvironmentalSuffering

JavierAuyero&DeboraSwistun

Wordcount(includingendnotesandbibliography):8,289

ABSTRACT Based on longterm collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a shantytown called Flammable(real name) locatedin Argentina,thispaperexaminesresidentsperceptions of their highly polluted surroundings. Using a case study to explore the relationship between objective space and subjective representations (habitat and habitus), the paper: (a) describes the widespread confusion that dominates shantytown dwellers views of contamination, and (b) argues that this confusion translates into selfdoubts, division, stigma, and a continual waiting time. The paper ends with an empiricallygrounded speculationregardingthesourcesoftoxicuncertainty. KEYWORDS Pollution,EnvironmentalSuffering,Poverty,Argentina

Claudiassuffering In1987ClaudiaRomeromovedtoFlammableShantytown(VillaInflamable,locatedin DockSud,inthedistrictofAvellaneda,Buenos Aires,Argentina).She was sevenyears old. At the time, her parents were working in the then stateowned YPF (Yacimientos Petrolferos Fiscales)oil refinery.Afterafewyearsofalong commutefrom Florencio Varela, Claudias parents found a place to live right across the compound that houses YPF(nowtheprivatizedRepsol),Shell,andotherpetrochemicalcompaniesandstorage facilities.Theyhaveallbeenlivingintheneighborhoodforthelastnineteenyears. Claudia is now twentyfive years old, married to Carlos Romero, and has four children.BothCarlosandClaudiausedtoworkascleanersintwoofthecompaniesof the compound, but they lost their jobs years ago. These days, Carlos leaves the house everyafternoontoscavengeindowntownAvellaneda.Onagoodweek,Imakearound $25(US$8),hetellsus.SometimesIbringstufftosell,apairofsneakers,orsomething Ifindinthestreet.AndImake5or10pesos.ItalldependsonthekindofmerchandiseI bring,butnowthestreetsareempty.Itstough.Butsomepeoplegivemecardboardor newspapers,someotherpeoplegivemeclothesorsneakers,andIsellthatstuff.Andwe subsist withherplan, wehavenothingelse.Claudiahasnotbeenabletofindajob andiscurrentlyabeneficiaryofthePlanJefasyJefes,astateunemploymentsubsidyof $150permonth(US$50)thatthefederalgovernmentlaunchedafterthe2001economic collapseinArgentina. Together, shesays,wemakearound$250(US$82permonth) andwiththatwemakeendsmeet(conesotiramos).Wecookonceaday,atnight.For lunch,theirchildrenhavebreadandmilktheironlyfullmealcomesatdinnertime.On the weekends, they all attend communal soup kitchens: On Saturdays and Sundays we alwaysgothere,sothattheycaneatatleastonceClaudiatellsus.Theirgascarafe costs$24,wedontalwayshavethemoneytopayforitandwehavetouse wood[for cooking and heating]. Carlos tried to sign up for the Plan Jefas y Jefes, but nothing happened.I didallthepaperworkandnothingcamethrough. The Romeros pressing economic needs compete for their attention with the constanthealthproblemsoftwooftheirchildren.Twoofthem,Claudiaremarks,have problems. The other two came out well. The youngest one, Julin, is now six, and has beenhavingconvulsionssincehewasababy: Hewasbornwiththismarkonhishead.Thedoctorstoldmeitwasnothing.That it wasjustabirthmark.Hethen startedtohaveconvulsionsandIbegantogo from one hospital to another. At the Childrens Hospital, he had a tomography doneanditturnsoutthathisbrainisaffectedbythatmark,whichisnotjuston the outside but on the inside too. And now he has that angioma that is popping out.See, Julin,showittothem. When Julin shows us the protruding red pimple, we ask Claudia about the doctors diagnosis.Theydontexplainanythingtome,shereplies,Theydontknowwhyhehas thatmark.Ihadmytestingdone,hisfatherwasalsotested.Andwehavenothing.They didntscreenusforleadbecausetheyhavetochargeusforthat.Andwecouldntpay. Julinwasprescribedananticonvulsant.ClaudiareceivesabottleofEpamilamonthfor

freeatthelocalpublichospital,butJulinuses2or3bottles.Andits$18to$20each one,andsometimeswecantaffordit.IbeganthepaperworktoseeifIcangetitforfree. Everybody promised me but nothing happened. Papers, papers, papers nothing but words. Julin needs to be routinely supervised for his convulsions, but it has been a whilesincehislastcheckup: WenowhaveanappointmentforAugust.HecoulddiebeforethenbutIhaveto wait [our emphasis]. Sometimes he has convulsions twice a day, and I have no medication. Now I dont even have money to [pay for the bus to] go to the hospital. Children here are always sick, with bronchitis, with a cold. She [referring to Sofia, her 7 year old daughter] always has headaches and stomachaches. Sofiawasbornwithherleftlegsignificantlyshorterthanherrightone:WhenIhadmy firstultrasound,Iwastoldthatshewasgoingtocomeoutwithproblems.WhenItoldthe doctorsthatIwaslivinghere,theytoldmeIshouldhavemyleadleveltested.Icouldnt affordtheexams[medicaltestsforleadlevel].Thedoctorstoldmethattheleadmayhave causedtheproblem withherleg.Lately,Sofiabegantoshowsignsofseriouslearning difficultiesatschool:Shehasproblemsrememberingthenumbersitsreallyhardfor her. Claudiaherselfisnotinbettershape.Shelooksmucholderthan25.Halfofher teetharemissingshealwayslooksextremelytired:Ihaveallthesymptoms,shesays referring to possible lead poisoning, I had cramps, blood coming out of my nose, constantheadaches.Itsbeen3or4yearsnowthatIvebeenachingallover.Whenthe pain is unbearable, she attends the local health center, and the doctors give me some aspirin. I get better but then the pain comes back. At night it is even worse. When we askedaboutherleadlevels,shetellsusthatthetestsareveryexpensiveforhertoafford: theyarebetween$100and$200. Claudia knows that she is not the only one with an aching body and with sick children.Theproblem,shesays,isallover: Idontreallyunderstandnumbers,butmynephewhas50%oflead[referringto 50ug/del(microgramsperdeciliter)farabovethe10ug/delwhichisconsidered normal].Mysisterwasabletopayfortheleadtestsbecauseherhusbandworks atShell.Sheknewshehadhighlevelsofleadwhenshewaspregnant[]Butshe is not doing anything about it. She is not in any treatment because she might cause trouble to her husband who works at Shell. If they find out that she has beentested,hemightlosehisjob.SometimesIwanttokillher.Itisasiftheyare scared.ButIbelievethechildrencomefirst.Whataboutherchildrenslives?Her kidisnotgaininganyweight.Heisverythin,andhelooksyellowish.Hehastons ofproblems,butshedoesntdoanythingaboutthem.Therearemany,manykids withproblemshere. Askedaboutthelocaldoctorsreactionstothesetroubles,shereacts:Nothing,theysay nothing.Oneofthedoctorsleftbecauseshebegantofeelsickandshefoundoutshehad

lead in her blood. Shed been here only a year so imagine how we are. During the courseofourconversation,ClaudiaadmitsthatshewantstoleaveFlammablebutalso saysthatshehasnotbeenlookingseriouslyintothatpossibilityandaddsthatnowthey wanttomoveallthepeopleoutofhere.Sheisreferringtoacensusthatpersonnelfrom themunicipalityarecarryingoutintheneighborhood.Nobodyknowsexactlywhatisthe purposeofyetanothercensus(therewasonejustafewyearsago)buttheyallsuspectit isrelatedtoapossiblerelocation:Amilliontimestheypromisethings.Theysaidthey weregoingtomoveusout,thattheyweregoingtomakenewhousesforus,buttherere justpromises.Nobodybelievesanythinganymore.Peoplearereallyburntouthere.Shell wants this piece of land. And here, in this area of the neighborhood, we are only 22 families,soitisquiteeasytoremoveusfromhere[...]Idowanttoleave.Sometimesyou cantbeoutside,theodorstinks,yourthroatstings.Itsmellsofgas.Evenifwecloseour doors,itsmells Surrounded by one of the largest petrochemical compounds in the country, by a highly pollutedriverthatbringsthetoxicwasteoftanneriesandotherindustries,byahazardous waste incinerator, and by an unmonitored landfill, Flammables soil, air, and water streamsarehighlypollutedwith lead,chromium,benzene,andotherchemicals.Soare, unsurprisingly, its sickenedand frail inhabitants.Asthe closeto5,000residentsofthis community, the Romeros are playthings of environmental, economic, and political misfortunes hardly of their own making. The Romeros troubled lives illustrate the devastatingeffectsoftoxiccontaminationontheyoungbodiesandmindsofFlammable residents. Theirs is also a story, common to other territories of urban relegation in Argentina,ofsheereconomicneedsstemmingfromthedisappearanceofworkandofa statethathasallbutabandonedthem.Fearsabouttheoriginsandprognosisoftheir(and their loved ones) infirmities, uncertainties regarding the relocation efforts (un)coordinated by the local state, confusions stemming from physicians confusing interventions, suspicions and rumors concerning the actions of the most powerful companyofthecompound,Shell,allaboundinthelivesoftheRomerosandofmanya Flammable resident. The product of a twoyear long collaborative ethnography, this paperexaminesresidentsperceptionsoftheirhighlycontaminatedhabitat. This articledrawsuponthreecomplementarystrandsofPierreBourdieuswork. First, in substantive terms, we take heed of Bourdieus concern with the experiential formsofsocialsufferingfocusingonenvironmentalsufferingaformofafflictionthat has been(almostcompletely)neglectedbystudentsofpovertyand marginality inLatin America.Withfewexceptions(ScheperHughes,1994Farmer,2003),ethnographiesof theurbanpariahsoftheregionhavefailedtotakeintoaccountonesimple,essential,fact: thepoordonotbreathethesameair,drinkthesamewater,orplayonthesamegrounds as others. The polluted environment has dire consequences for their health and future 1 capabilities,upon whichissuesscholars haveremainedshamefully silent. Second,inmethodologicalterms,wecombinethekindofreflexiveethnography Bourdieuadvocatedwiththeuseofphotography.Regardingethnography:Weundertook ateamapproachtoethnography.Aswellasarchivalwork,JavierAuyeroconductedmost of the interviews with officials, company personnel, activists, lawyers. Debora Swistun conducted most of the interviews with and elicited life stories fromresidents. She was

born and has lived all her life in the neighborhood most of the people she talked to during the course of this twoyear long project are her neighbors, some ofwhom have known her since she was born and are friends or acquaintances of her family. Familiarityandsocialproximitywereextremelyuseful inreducingas muchaspossible thesymbolicviolenceexertedthroughtheinterviewrelationship(Bourdieuetal,1999). 2 At our request, youths at the local school took pictures of their neighborhood. We conceivedofthesephotographsaslaysociograms(BourdieuandBourdieu,2004)(i.e. diagrammatic representations of the ways in which young residents perceive their environment),andwerelyonthem(andon someofourownpictures)tointroducethe readerintothespaceofFlammable.Ethnographyandphotographyareherecombinedto understandandexplainresidentslivedexperiencesoftoxiccontamination. Third, and most importantly, we empirically explore the relationship between objective space and subjective representations (or habitat and habitus) in one specific (poisoned)universe.Inparticular,weseekanswerstothefollowingquestionaboutsite effects (Bourdieu et al, 1999): How do residents who have for years been regularly exposed to a poisoned environment think and feel about their dirty and contaminated place,itsnoxiousfumes,pollutedwatersandgrounds?Ourargumentisthreefold:First, weshowthattherearemultiple,confused,(andoftentimes)contradictorypointsofview on the polluted habitat. There is also widespread blindness (a nonview, so to speak) regardingsourcesandeffectsoftoxicity.Againstsimplisticandonesidedrepresentations (created from the outside, mainly by the media) that construct Flammable as a place inhabitedbypeoplewhothinkandfeelabouttoxicityinasingle,monolithicway,long term ethnographyrevealsthepresenceofadiversityofcoexistingviewsanddeeplyheld beliefs. There is neither a determined take up of arms against toxic assault nor a populationcompletelyadjustedtocontamination.Second,wecontendthatignoranceand doubt, mistakes and contradictions, sometimes transform into selfdoubt (regarding the trueextentofcontamination)andintodivisionsandstigmas(regardingwhoisreally contaminated).Third,wearguethatthiswidespreadconfusiontranslatesintoanendless waiting time. Flammable residents are constantly waiting for further testing that will trulyshowtheeffectsofpollution.Theyarealsowaitingforanalwaysimminent state relocation plan, and for a huge settlement with one of the powerful companies that will,inthewordsofaneighbor,allowustomoveout.Thiswaiting,webelieve,isone of the main ways in which Flammable residents experience submission to an overwhelminglydamagingreality.

INSERTPICTURESONEANDTWOABOUTHERE

Wearecertainlynotthefirsttostudythewaysinwhichpeoplethinkandfeelabouttoxic dangers. There is, by now, a long tradition that grapples with variations of the same theme. A number of studies have chronicled the origins, development and outcomes of collectiveactionsorganizedagainstthepresenceofpollutantsinseveralcommunitiesin the United States and have examined the views and sentiments of affected residents (Levine,1982BrownandMikkelsen,1990CouchandKrollSmith,1991Aronoffand

Gunter, 1992 Walsh et al. 1993 Capek, 1993 Bullard, 1994 Murphree, Wright, and Ebaugh, 1996 Checker, 2005 Lerner, 2005 for a recent review of research on and protest against environmental injustice, see Pellow, 2005). Although diverging in methodology, analytic depth, and empirical focus, a typical sequence can be extracted from most of these accounts: collective ignorance about the presence and impact of toxinsisinterruptedwhenaneighbororagroupofthem,inmanycasesiratehousewives turned into activists(Mazur, 1991: 200), begin to make the connections between their placeofresidenceandtheexistenceofcertainillnesses,betweenillnessandtoxicwaste, and between his or her individual problems and those of others. Brown and Mikkelsen (1990) coined the term popular epidemiology to refer to the process through which victims detect a disease pattern. This process of discovery of danger, of increasing awareness aboutthe effects of surrounding toxins, is usually spearheaded by residents turned activists: Larry Wilson in Yellow Creek, Key Jones and Kathleen Varady in Pennsylvania, Anne Anderson in Woburn, Margie Richard in Diamond, and the now legendary Lois Gibbs in Love Canal, are the bestknown examples of stubborn, almost heroic,leadersoflongandbitterstruggles(CouchandKrollSmith,1991).Thistypical sequencealso includesanactiveprocessoflearning(and agreatdealof frustration) in which victims become skilled at playing political games with authorities and quickly absorbingscientificknowledge. Despitedivergenttheoreticalorientationsmostoftheavailableaccountsseemto shareaclassicalMarxistmodelofconsciousness:physicallyproximateaggrievedpeople overcomefalsebeliefsorpersistentuncertaintiesthroughreflectionandinteraction.The outcomeof thisprocessof lossofinnocence(Levine,1982CableandWalsh,1991)is, almostalways,asingleanddeterminedconsensusregardingtheproblemanditssolution tellingly,themainactorinmostofthechroniclesisthecommunity.Inemphasizing changes in collective perceptions of legitimacy and mutability of objective conditions, mostworksportrayeitherimplicitlyorexplicitlyavariationofwhatDougMcAdam termed, a while ago, cognitive liberation, i.e. the transformation from hopeless submission to oppressive conditions to an aroused readiness to challenge those conditions (1984:34). Initsalmostexclusivefocusonsuccessfulcases(i.e.casesinwhichcommunities were either relocated, compensated and/or cleaned) and in its emphasis on the ultimate achievement of a shared consensus regarding sources, effects, and solutions to contamination(communitiesthatdiscoverandknowaboutsurroundingtoxicity),extant 3 literatureleavescasessuchasFlammableintheshadows. Mostofwhatweknowabout environmentalinjusticeandtheemergenceofcollectiveactionagainstthoseresponsible forcontaminationisoflittleanalytichelptounderstandandexplaincasesinwhichthere is neither a clear outcome nor a single shared consensus on the very existence of a problem,lesssoitspotentialsolution.Whenconfrontednotwithcognitiveliberationand protestbutwiththereproductionofignorance,doubt,disagreements,andfears,weareat an analyticalandtheoreticalloss. Many people in Flammable know about contamination but interpret the information in different, sometimes contradictory, ways. Many other people ignore and/or are uncertain about the presence of toxins in the environment and/or about the relationship between exposure and disease. Paradoxically, as the contamination of air,

waterandsoilincreasedovertheyears,residentsbecamelesscertainaboutitsextentand effects. When confronted with cases such as Flammable in which residents are divided (there is no single community to speak of) and confused, a place where ignorance is routinely reproduced and risk is constantly normalized, we thus need to resort to an alternative framework: one that makes the perpetuation of ignorance, mistake, and uncertaintythecenterofanalysis.InFlammable,whatcallsforanindepthexamination is the notknowing that is a constitutive part of the way in which social domination worksandofthedailyfabricof toxicsuffering. AToxicHistoryofFlammable FlammableshantytownislocatedinthedistrictofAvellaneda,onthesoutheasternborder 4 ofthecityofBuenosAires. Accordingtothelastavailablefigures,in2000therewere 679households in Flammable.It isa fairly new population:75percent oftheresidents havelivedintheareaforlessthan15years.Althoughthereisnoexactcount,municipal authorities, community leaders, and people who live or work in the area (in the petrochemicalcompound,theschool,andhealthcenter)toldusthatinthepastdecadethe populationincreasedatleastfourfoldgrowthfedbyshantytownremovalinthecityof Buenos Aires and by immigration from other provinces and nearby countries (Per, Bolivia, and Paraguay). A small sector of oldtime, lowermiddleclass residents are clearly marked off from the majority of newer, lowincome dwellers. These internal differences between the old neighborhood and the recent shantytown are crucial to understand the meanings and experiences of contamination. Scavenging, state welfare programs,andparttimemanualjobsinoneofthecompaniesinthecompoundofferthe mainsource ofsubsistenceinFlammable. Flammable shantytown is, in many ways, similar to other poverty enclaves in urbanArgentina,deeplyaffectedbyrocketingunemploymentandtheensuingmiseryof the 1990s (Auyero, 2000). What distinguishes this poor neighborhood from others, however,istheparticularrelationshipithaswiththecompoundsmaincompany,Shell Capsa,andtheextentofthecontaminationthataffectstheareaanditsresidents. The brick walls and guarded gates that separate the compound (the site of six major petrochemical companies and numerous small ones) betray the long connection that,formorethan70years,ShellCapsahashadwiththecommunity.ThefirstShellOil refineryopenedin1931.Sincethen,togetherwiththeotherchemical,oil,andelectrical companies within the compound (notably YPF, Meranol, Central Dock Sud, and now Petrobras),ithasattractedeagerworkerswhocamefromtheprovincestolookforwork inBuenosAires.Inthelifestorieswecollected,olderresidentsrememberanabundance ofworkinthearea.Theyalsorecallthelackofhousingclosetothecompoundandtheir strenuouseffortstobuildwhatinitiallywereshacksinthemiddleofswamps.Still,today, there are lowlands in the center of the neighborhood. Filling in and leveling out the surroundingsappearsinoldtimersnarrativesasaveryimportantjointactivityofthose earlydays,andonewhichcontinuestodayaccordingtoourinterviewsandobservations. Health practitioners in the area claim that one of the possible sources of local contaminationmightbetheverymaterials,oftenpackedwithtoxicwaste,thatpeoplein theneighborhoodhaveused(andstill use)toleveltheirplots.

INSERTPICTURETHREEABOUTHERE There are several elements of the material and symbolic entanglement between theneighborhoodandShell,or laempresaasresidentscallit.Historically,Shellprovided formal and informal jobs for men (who worked in the refinery) and women (who did domestic work such as cleaning and babysitting for the professional workforce within thecompound).OldtimersremembernotonlyworkingforShell,butalsoattendingthe health center located on the companys premises, obtaining drinkable water from the company,andreceivingpipesandotherbuildingmaterialfromthecompany.Lessthana decade ago, Shell funded the construction of the health center in the neighborhood (a center that employs seven doctors and two nurses and has a 24hour guard and an ambulance, something that is quite uncommon in poor neighborhoods throughout the country). Although, after automation of many of its operations, Shell is no longer the main employer in the community, it still provides jobs to residents, young and old. Furthermore,Shellroutinelygivesgrantstothelocalschoolinwhatacompanyengineer we interviewed defined as a social performance plan. The company also funds are a nutritional program for poor mothers that includes the distribution of food computing classesforlocal students(heldinsidetheShellscompound)windows,paint,andheaters fortheschoolbuildingtheendoftheyeartripforgraduatingclassesofthelocalschool tshirtswiththeShelllogoforstudentsoccer,volleyball,andhandballteams andtoysfor the school kids during the celebration of Childrens Day. Through its community relations division the company seeks to follow what a former municipal official calls a good neighbor policy. In some positive ways, then, Shells presence undoubtedly distinguishesFlammablefromotherpoorcommunities. However, Flammable is also different from other destitute neighborhoods throughout Buenos Aires in the extent (and known effects) of its air, water, and soil pollution. Experts from both the local government and Shell agree that, given the air quality associated with the compounds industrial activities, the area is unsuitable for human residence. The place has also been used as a dumping ground by many nearby companies. It is still used as an openair waste disposal site for subcontractors who illegally dump garbage in the area (as we witnessed on several occasions during our fieldwork).Many of the pipes that connect homes to the city water supply are plastic defects in the joints and breaks allow the toxins in the soil to enter the stream of the officially defined potable water.A nauseating stenchoftencomes from these garbage disposalsites, fromputridwatersfilledwiththis samegarbage,and fromthechemicals storedandprocessedinthecompound. INSERTPICTURESFOURANDFIVEABOUTHERE One epidemiological study compared a sample of children between seven and eleven years old living in Flammable with a control population living in another poor neighborhoodwithsimilarsocioeconomiccharacteristicsbutlowerlevelsofexposureto industrial activities (PAE, 2003). In both neighborhoods, the study found, children are exposedtochromiumandbenzene(bothknowncarcinogens)andtotoluene.Butleadin

their bodies, the mother of all industrial poisons the paradigmatic toxin [linking] industrial and environmental disease (Markowitz and Rosner, 2002:137), distinguishes the children of Flammable from the rest. Fifty percent of the children tested in this neighborhood had higherthannormal blood levels of lead (against 17 percent in the 5 controlpopulation). Notsurprisingly,givenwhatweknowabouttheeffectsoflead in children,thestudyfoundlowerthanaverageIQamongFlammablechildrenandahigher 6 percentage of neurobehavioral problems. The study also found strong statistical associationsbetweenfrequentheadachesandneurologicalsymptoms,learningproblems, and hyperactivity in school. Flammable children also reported more dermatological problems (eye irritation, skin infections, eruptions, and allergies), respiratory problems (coughsandbroncospasms),neurologicalproblems(hyperactivity)andsorethroatsand headaches. Where does the lead come from? The study is inconclusive. Lead in the air of Flammableistwoandonehalftimeshigherthanthestatethreshold.Thesmallriverthat borders the shantytown is also contaminated with lead (and chromium). Experts also pointtothematerialburiedinthegroundonwhichthechildrenplayasanotherpossible sourceof leadpoisoning.Theyalsotoldusthat,fora longtime before lawsregulating toxic waste disposal existed, the companies within the compound used Flammable as a freedumpingzone.Lead,inotherwords,mightbecomingfromeverywhere. INSERTPICTURESIXABOUTHERE Toxicconfusion How do Flammable residents make sense of their surroundings? How much do they know about their toxic habitat? As we foreshadowed, there is clearly no single, monolithic, Flammable point of view on pollution and its healthrelated effects. Perceptions range from outright denial to critical awareness, from doubts to deepfelt convictions.Theseperceptionsaresometimesfactuallyaccurate,othertimescompletely mistaken. These perceptions, furthermore, sometimes coexist within the same individuals. Some people are certain about the extent of air pollution in their neighborhood but (wrongly) displace the issue of leadpoisoning to the nearby shantytown. Some others are highly critical of all the contamination produced by the companies insidethecompound butareincorrectaboutthesourcesofpollution.Others stillseemunawareoftheirownhazardouspracticesregardinglandfilling.Despiteallthis diversity,wewereabletoidentifysomecommonthemeswhichpointtotheexistenceof widespreadconfusionanduncertaintyregardingsources,extent,andeffectsofindustrial pollution. With the black and white smoke coming out from the surrounding smokestacks, withtheconstantnoiseofalarmsandheavytrucks,withtherandomodorsofgasorother pungent substances, with the surrounding garbage and dirt swamplands, it is hard for anybody in Flammable to deny that, as many a neighbor told us, there is something here.Aswewererepeatedlytold(andexperiencedourselves):Oftentimesyouhaveto go inside the house, you cant be outside, it stinks And yet, when residents have to talkaboutthespecificsofcontamination,whenthey havetoputanametothesources,

location, and contents of pollution things get murky. Doubts and mistakes also abound whenneighborsspeculateoutloudaboutthedeleterioushealtheffectsofpollution. Oil, for example, is said to contaminate water streams it is also said to be harmless(therealproblemnotbeingtheoilrefinerybutthenearbystoragesofchemical substances)theShellrefineryisbelievedtobecompletelysafe(itisthesafestplantin theworld)orhighlycontaminating(ShelliskillingusTheygivepresentstocover contamination) the coal processing plant located inside the compound is seen as poisonous (a cancer factory) or innocuous (because nothing is vented into the air). With lead, however, discrepancies take a different form. Nobody denies that lead is harmful but most displace it elsewhere: it is not located in the neighborhood but in the poorest and newest part of the shantytown it is not stored in their (or their childrens) bodiesbutinthoseofthemostdestituteshantydwellerswhosekidsplaybarefoot,who donotwashtheirhands,andwhobatheindirtywaters.Ratherthantheenvironment itself, permissive mothers are, in this way of reasoning, those responsible for exposing childrentolead. The following two interview excerpts summarize hours of conversations with neighbors. Garca and Irma are in their seventies and have been living in the neighborhoodforthelastfiftyyearsSilviaisinhersixtiesandwasbornandraisedinthe neighborhood: Garca: Idontknow,Idontknowwhatcontaminationpeoplearetalkingabout. Theyblamethecoal[coke]plant,butthewhole[industrial]processisaclosed circuit,nothingisventedintotheair.Yearsago,thecoalwasallprocessedinthe opennotevenasinglecoalworkerisalive,thatwasunhealthy Irma: Butnotnow Garca: No,notnow.Listen,Iworkedthere[atShell]for38yearstheyusedto makegasoline withlead,butnotanymore.I workedatthegasolinetanks,andI never got sick If this [neighborhood] were contaminated, imagine: shes been heresince1944,andIhavelivedheresince1950,we wouldbedeadorsickbut wehaveneverbeensickfromcontamination[notuvimosningunaenfermedadde lacontaminacin][] Silvia: The leadpoisoned kids are all from there [the newest and most destitute part of shantytown]. None of the kids from here have anything They [the children]getsickbecauseofallthegarbagethattheycollect. It is a matter of common knowledge among neighbors that there is something in, mostly, the air there is less certainty or awareness about ground and water pollution. Butthereisachasmbetweenwhatpeopleknow(orsaytheyknow)andhowwhatthey knowisinterpreted(Eden,2004Vaughan,19901998).Onewayofthinkingandliving pollution acknowledges its existence but denies its seriousness. Many adults in Flammable use their own bodies to support that belief after all they never had any health problems. As oldtime neighbor Francisco puts it: I raised three kids here. I myself have been inside many of the plants and I dont have any [health] problems. Another viewpoint expresses doubts concerning contaminations true effects because

they dont know yet. Countless of times we heard neighbors saying that they dont really know if they are contaminated as if it were a black and white proposition, somethingthatyouhaveoryoudonotbecausetheyhavenotyetbeen tested. Somepeopleacknowledgecontradictorythings they know theextentandseverity ofpollutionbuttheyalsopointablamingfingeratthevictimsownbehaviorasthetrue sourceofthecontamination.Marga,thepresidentofthelocalimprovementassociation, illustrates what we think is a generalized uncertainty. As many others, Marga thinks contamination isterrible.If youweretothink aboutitand start mullingover it, youd wanttoleavethisplacerightaway.Shethinksofthecompoundasaworldapart.Most of the time you have no idea whats going on inside (just as every single person we talked to, she doesnt know the number of plants located within the petrochemical compound).IntalkingaboutFlammablespast,Margaisconvincedthatthesmallfarms thatusedtoaboundintheneighborhooddisappearedbecauseofalltheindustrialwaste: thesoilwasallcontaminated,itstoppedbeinguseful.However,whenspeakingabout thepresent,sheexpressesdoubtsaboutthetrueoriginand formof leadcontamination: We should not put all the blame in those at the top [i.e. in the government and/or the compound]. Parents are also responsible because they never cared to attend to their children and to see what could be done. She also says that she has many doubts regarding the degree of contamination: I dont really know if I am polluted or not I dontevenknowwhatthesymptomsare. So, you dont really know if you have something, says Felisa who has been living in the neighborhood for thirty years, and manyof her neighbors despite being surrounded by foul smells of chemicals and garbage, despite knowing the place is contaminatedagree:Flammablemightbecontaminated,butImnotor,Idontknow yet. Manyresidentsconcurthattheneighborhoodiscontaminatedbuttheyhavediverse interpretations regarding the extent of contamination (its spatial distribution) and its concrete (health) effects. From the poisoned point(s) of view, pollution facts are sometimesperceivedaccurately,sometimesinaskewedway,othertimestheyareeither mistaken (contrary to a widely held belief, lead contamination is not clustered in the poorest section of the shantytown), some times they are unnoticed (as when their own riskperpetuating landfilling practices are overlooked), other times misinterpreted (as whentheyusetheirownbodiestochallengethetrueimpactoftoxics).Thiswidespread confusionanduncertaintyismakingFlammableinhabitantswait.

Residents in Flammable share with all dominated groups a similar fate. They are condemnedtoliveinatimeorientedtoothers,obliged,asPierreBourdieu(2000:237)so eloquently puts it, to wait for everything to come from others. In Flammable this waitingtakesanexaggeratedformand,fortwoyearsnow,wehavebeendocumentingall the behaviors and opinions that illustrate this exercise of power: appointments with lawyers to discuss possible compensation are constantly deferred leadscreenings and other blood tests are routinely delayed by the local state hopes for relocation by state authoritiesarefalselyraisedanddashed.Residentswaitforanewrelocationplan,fora newlawyer,foracourtruling,foranewtest.

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Typical is Marta. She came to Villa Inflamable in 1995. She organizes a soup kitchen at her house with funds provided by the local state and some of the compound companies.Shehasadaughterandthreesonsoneofthem,Ezequiel,wastestedduring thePAEstudyandisleadpoisoned.Sheexplains: Ezequiel is ashamed of going out with shorts because of all the pimples. He has small scarsalloverhim.ThankGod,heneverhadthemonhisface.Iboughthimlongpantsso thathecancoverthepimples.Hedoesntsleepatnight.Ititchesalloverhisback,his arms,hislegs.Manuel(secondson)isnowgettingrashestoo.Iamnowwaitingforthe lawyers.Theyarecomingtodosomestudies,butIdontknowwhatsgoingonbecause theyhaventcomeyet.Icallthemandtheydontcome. [.] Before this one, we had some other lawyersDoctor Palacio and some others. They came,wesigned[thepowerofattorney],wehadmeetings,theyexplainedstufftous,and then, all of a sudden, they disappeared. They were from the city. A neighbor brought them to the neighborhood. I think it was through some local politician. They never showedupagain[in2001].WewenttoLaPlata[thecapitalofthestateofBuenosAires] tohavebloodtestsdone.Wethengottogetherwithagroupofothermothersandwegot another lawyer. His name was Doctor Isla. We had meetings at my house, we signed papers,theyexplainedstufftous.Wecameandwentallover.Theytoldusthatwecould getmoneyfromthecompanies.Isladisappeared,henevercameback.Oneday,Doctor Russocameby.HecameinNovemberoflastyear[2005].Again,hedisappeared.Buthe came back, this one did return. I trust him. He stopped calling us during the last six monthsbutheisveryresponsible.Hehadfourfamiliestested.Butwedontknowthe results.Apparently,hecalledoneneighborandtoldhimthatthebloodtestshavetobe doneagain.Idontknow.Itsbeenmonthssincehelastcame.Imgoingtocallhim[] There is shit in the water, we have everything on our side [to win the lawsuit]. The lawyerfiledalawsuitbecauseweareunprotectedhere.Thelawyertoldme:Marta,get ready,becauseyouaregoingtohaveagoodreward.Weareabouttowinthelawsuit. [.] We are going to be relocated, this year. Municipal officials say that by 2007 nobody should be living here. The owners of the land will pay us, they are going to give us a house.Therearenotgoingtobeanymorehouseslefthere.Thisplaceisallgoingtobe greenspaceand[therewillbe]industrialplants.Allthecompanies,withtheexceptionof Petrobras, put the money down [so that we can be relocated]. All the residents of Flammablearegoingtoberemovedbutwherearewegoingtogo?Theycantkickus out. If they give me 30 thousand pesos, Ill move to Areco [in the province of Buenos Aires]withmycousin.Itsprettythere[]But,ifthey evictme,Idontknow whereI willgo.WhatshallIdo?Idonthaveaplacetogo.Idontknow,Idontknow. TheEthnographyofNotKnowing ContemporaryurbanethnographyintheAmericashasdoneasplendidjobindescribing andexplainingthecausesandexperientialformsofthesufferingsenduredbydwellersin ghettos, innercities, favelas, villas, comunas, and other territories of urban relegation.

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Eveninthemidstoftheirdistressmostoftheprotagonistsofurbanethnographyremain consistentandawaresubjectsactorsusuallyknowsomethingthatwedonot.Werarely readethnographictexts inwhichpeople hesitate,make mistakes,and/orareplagued by contradictionssubjectswhoknowand dontknow. How are we to understand and explain widespread error, blindness, and confusion?Howcome,inthemidstofaslowmotiontoxicdisaster,wherechildrenhave recordlevelsofleadintheirbloodstreams,wheretheairandwaterresidentsbreatheand drink is highlycontaminated,Flammabledwellersallowthemselvestodoubtabout(or, worse,deny)thehardfacts ofindustrialpollution? There are important external contributions to a particular nature of doubt, uncertainty and notknowing in the relationship between habitus and habitat. Toxic contaminationisinherentlyuncertain(Edelstein,2003):thebodyspastexposures,the doseresponserelationship,synergisticeffects,andetiologicalambiguityallcontributeto theproblemofambiguityinbothtoxicologyandepidemiology(Brown,KrollSmith,and Gunter, 2000). In Flammable, this intrinsic uncertainty is amplified by a labor of confusion performed, not necessarily intentionally, by a series of interconnected actors: state officials who mandate blood tests and then suspend them without notice and who routinely raise the issue of relocation and then (and as frequently) suspend it petrochemical companies that provide funds for the local health center, assert (through authoritativespokespersons)thattheareais unfitforhumanresidenceand,withequal emphasis,thatshantydwellersownbehaviorsareresponsiblefortheirpoisoning(they smoke inside their homes, they dont wash their hands, as we were told by a Shell engineer) doctors at the local health center who deny the existence of contamination relatedillnesses(whatyoufindhere,youllfindinanyotherareawherethepoorlive, we were repeatedly told) but who admit that theres something strange here and tell mothersof leadpoisonedchildrenthat,iftheir lovedonesaretobecured,theyhaveto leave the neighborhood for good media reporters who randomly come into the neighborhood, focus on the most extreme aspects of life here, and then broadcast the newsintheauthoritativelanguageofjournalism(withthehelpoftheoccasionalexperts) emphasizing how improbable life is in this inferno (as the title of one such report reads) and lawyers who frequently come to the neighborhood in search of potential clients,raisetheexpectationsofvulnerableresidentswhohaveeverythingontheirside because there is shit inthewaterand,encouragethemtowait foragoodreward,in manycasesdreamedtobeinthethousandsofdollars. Equally important,though, asthese external contributions is the tragedy charted by our ethnography of the usually unacknowledged import of Bourdieus famous assertion(2000:140)thatwearedisposedbecauseweareexposed,whichcanherebe seen to be literally true. Exposure to contamination, we argue, engenders a set of confused,contradictory,andmistakenunderstandingsthattranslateintoalong,impotent, anduncertainwaitingtime,atimeorientedtootherssharedbyalldominatedgroupsbut nonewithstakessohighandlethallyimprintedwithintheirverybodiesastheresidents ofFlammable.

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Endnotes
1

Two recent review essays attest for the fact that the contaminated spaces where the urban poor live is a marginal (if not absent) concern among researchers: A recent comprehensivereviewofstudiesofpovertyandinequalityinLatinAmericapublishedin theAnnualReviewofSociology(HoffmanandCenteno,2003)andasymposiumonthe historyandstateofthestudiesofmarginalityandexclusioninLatinAmericapublished inLatinAmericanResearchReview (GonzlezdelaRochaetal.2004)makenomention ofenvironmentalfactorsaskeydimensionsofmaterialdeprivation. 2 th InJuly2005,weaskedthirteenstudentsofthe9 gradeinthelocalschooltodivide themselvesintogroups(fivegroupsoftwostudentseachandoneofthreestudents)and gave them disposable cameras containing 27 exposures each. They were told to take halfofthepicturesonthingstheylikedabouttheneighborhoodandhalfonthingsthey did not like. We gave them no further instructions. They all returned the cameras providingatotalnumberof134pictures.Wewilluseaselectionofthepictures(those that better represent the recurrent themes) and excerpts from the interviews we conductedwiththeseyoungsterstointroducethereadertothespaceofFlammable.For amorethoroughexaminationofyoungsterspictures,seeAuyero&Swistun(2007). 3 Francoise Zonabends (1993) study of the experiences of those living alongside a highrisknuclearwastereprocessingplant(acombinationofselectiveblindness,denial, indifference,fatalism,notwantingtoknow, andfear)isoneofthefewexceptions. 4 ThenameFlammableisquiterecent.OnJune28,1984,therewasafireinthePerito Morenooilshipharboredinthenearbycanal.Theshipexplodedandproduced,inthe words of an old resident, the highest flames Ive ever seen. After the accident, rememberedbyeveryoneasatraumaticexperience,companiesinthecompoundbuilta new(andaccordingtoexperts,safer)dockexclusivelyforflammableproductsadock thatsoongaveanewnametotheadjacentcommunityformerlyknownsimplyasthe coast. 5 10ug/del(microgramsperdeciliter)isnowconsideredtobeanormalbloodlevelof lead.Onthehistoryofleadepidemiology,seeBerney(2000)andWidener(2000).On the history of deceit and denial concerning the pernicious effects of lead, see MarkowitzandRosner(2002).SeealsoWarren(2000). 6 Leadaccumulatesinthehumanbody(intheblood,intissuesandbones)inproportion totheamountof lead found intheenvironment.Lead intheenvironmentresults from theuseofleadinindustry.Leadabsorption(measuredinfeces,urine,blood,andother tissues) is the indication of exposure and poisoning (Berney, 2000:238). Lead is a poisonthataffectsthebrain,kidneys,andthenervoussysteminmanysubtlewaysand atlowlevels.Extremelyhighexposuretoleadcauseencephalopathyanddeath,lower doses cause severe retardation, and lesser doses lead to school problems, small but significantshiftsinIQ,andothermeasuresofcentralnervoussystemfunction (Berney, 2000:205).

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