Surrounded by one of the largest petrochemical compounds in Argentina, a highly polluted river, a hazardous waste incinerator, and an unmonitored landfill, the shantytown Flammable suffers from rampant contamination of its soil, air, and water. In Flammable, Javier Auyero and Flammable resident Debora Alejandra Swistun draw upon archival research and two and a half years of fieldwork to explore the lived experiences of environmental suffering. Perhaps most interesting, the authors show that residents doubt or even deny the harmful impact of pollution on their lives.
This denial of the obvious occurs through a "labor of confusion" generated by state officials who frequently raise the issue of relocation and just as frequently suspend it; by doctors who say the illnesses are no different from those elsewhere, but tell patients they must leave the neighborhood; and by lawyers who encourage residents to hold out for a settlement. Auyero and Swistun vividly depict this slow-motion disaster, dissecting the manifold ways in which it is experienced by Flammable residents.
1.: Villas del Riachuelo. Life amidst Hazards, Garbage, and Poison
2.: The Compound and the Neighborhood
3.: Toxic Wor(l)ds
4.: The (Confused and Mistaken) Categories of the Dominated
5.: Exposed Waiting
6.: Collective Disbelief in Joint Action
7.:The Social Production of Toxic Uncertainty
8.: Ethnography and Environmental Suffering
"The authors have accomplished an astounding analysis of the destruction – physical and psychological – of a people living in poverty, their world dominated by a multinational corporate giant whose toxic waste pollutes their everyday lives. This superb and moving political ethnography captures the meanings of contamination to the residents, who live in disaster – immobilized by the toxic uncertainty, powerless confusion, and mistake that ultimately normalize risk and danger."
– Diane Vaughan, author of The Challenger Launch Decision
"In this stunning book, Auyero and Swistun dissect the 'slow-motion human and environmental disaster' wrought by the noxious mix of economic dispossession and extreme pollution in a slum of Buenos Aires. By disclosing how residents experience 'toxic uncertainty' in everyday life, they show why this poisonous habitat not only assaults their individual bodies, but also ravages their social defenses and cultural immunity. With its deft integration of fieldwork, social theory, and narrative, Flammable is a signal contribution that will be widely discussed, often emulated, but not surpassed for a long time to come."
– Loic Wacquant, author of Urban Outcasts
"This brilliant ethnography of a polluted shantytown opens a new theoretical and topical frontier for urban poverty studies. The authors show how impoverished, poisoned residents, compelled to scramble for their daily economic survival in the context of larger political economic forces, are buffeted by competing discourses of agents of the state and civil society. They become trapped in a misrecognized toxic environment that imposes tremendous and ongoing physical suffering, psychic anxiety, and paralyzing uncertainty on them."
– Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect
"A powerful study of environmental abuse and 'toxic suffering,' this will acquaint readers in a personal way with a troubling and too-common plight."
– Publishers Weekly
" [...] Distinct from much of the social movement literature, and also the ethnographies of the poor."
– Contemporary Sociology