Environment Seminar Series: Ground Truth: Toward a Sociology of Late Industrial Soils with Scott Frickel

When and Where

Wednesday, January 31, 2024 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm


Scott Frickel


About the Seminar

This talk introduces my new research project that will reconstruct a history of soil contamination science and policy and its relationship to broader socio-ecological processes of environmental inequality and urbanization. Set mainly in Providence, Rhode Island the study is anchored in a close analysis of site investigation reports, that have been solicited and managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) since the early 1980s. Each report catalogues soil contamination on a particular parcel of land: what sites are contaminated, how RIDEM knows this, and what the agency does about it. Together the reports reveal how one of the environmental state’s most essential regulatory institutions – the site investigation – has operated in practice and over time and across diverse neighborhoods and landscapes. Combining traditional archival research, interviews, and ethnography with new computational techniques in digital humanities, the study promises to reveal how ostensibly public, but largely hidden, epistemic and organizational processes unfolding in law firms, private testing laboratories, planning offices, and real estate markets inscribe the science and policy of soil contamination onto urban landscapes, invisibly structuring the entwined social geographies of environmental inequality, knowledge, and ignorance.

About the Speaker

Scott Frickel is Professor of Sociology and Environment and Society and Director of Research for the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. He is author of three award-winning books: Chemical Consequences: Environmental Mutagens and the Rise of Genetic Toxicology (2004), a comparative history of urban industrial land use coauthored with James R. Elliott entitled, Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities (2018), and a new multi-authored monograph, Residues: Thinking through Chemical Environments (2022). He has also co-edited three books exploring the politics of science, fields of knowledge, and interdisciplinary collaboration. He is currently studying the relationship between hazardous land uses, regulatory science, inequality, and health in Argentina and the United States.


Contact Information