Envisioning Post-Industrial Futures: Community Activism and Government Environmental Health Science


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




When is environmental disaster complete? This dissertation tracks the efforts of residents, government agencies, and local developers to locate environmental health threats as existing in the past, present, or future. The project focuses on Ambler, Pennsylvania, a town built around asbestos manufacturing and dealing with a legacy of asbestos waste. Ethnographic methods were used to study collaborations between residents and health agencies from 2009 to 2013, while one waste site was listed as an EPA Superfund site. The project explores how different ways of seeing and measuring place alter ways of imagining neighborhoods and the people who live there. It highlights the ways that definitions of risks and their geographic and temporal boundaries get developed in practice, and deeply shape the kinds of futures people mark as possible to envision or hope for. The study holds implications for understanding what it means to move forward socially and materially from industrial pasts, with implications for a wide range of scholarship, practice, and policy.