Technocentric ‘saviorism’ as ‘slow violence’: Lead in drinking water and the urgency to reimagine technical experts’ relationship with communities in need
When considering structural determinants underlying drinking water contamination crises, we often focus on governmental and corporate entities that promote the interests of the few to the detriment of the many, inflicting – to employ Rob Nixon’s concept – imperceptible, ‘slow violence.’ This talk argues that there are additional contributors to drinking water injustice who are routinely overlooked: namely, technical experts setting out to “save” communities from harm, while discounting community experiences and expertise. Using lead in drinking water as a case study, the talk examines a) the US federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which was adopted in 1991 to protect consumers from lead at the tap; b) the historic lead-in-water crises of Washington, DC and Flint, MI, which erupted 10 and 23 years respectively after the LCR’s promulgation; and c) the scientific and engineering interventions launched to address these crises, which were celebrated as heroic and triumphant by the US STEM establishment among others, over objections from members of the affected communities. The talk posits that technocentric ‘saviorism’ is not only built on a flawed premise – that technical experts alone can “solve” environmental injustices – but, by its very nature, obscures community knowledge, resourcefulness, and innovation. Thus, it tends to augment the power of technical experts, hindering community activism, replicating structural inequities, and perpetuating social and physical harm. The talk closes with an urgent call for reimagining the relationship of technical experts – and, by extension, all experts, and academia at large – with communities in need.
Date: 13 February 2020, 17:00 (Thursday, 4th week, Hilary 2020)
Venue: Dyson Perrins Building, off South Parks Road OX1 3QY
Venue Details: Herbertson Room, SoGE
Speaker: Dr Yanna Lambrinidou (Virginia Tech)
Organising department: School of Geography and the Environment
Organiser contact email address:
Host: Dr Katrina Charles (University of Oxford)
Booking required?: Not required
Audience: Public
Editor: Anna Murgatroyd