Cumulative Effects: Reckoning Risk on Baltimore's Toxic Periphery


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This research explores the historical and embodied dimensions of risk from the perspective of a community in south Baltimore. In the process, it challenges scholarly inquiries that tend to treat risk as a strictly future-looking phenomenon. Drawing on archival and ethnographic study in a neighborhood that has managed multiple forms of risk over the past two centuries—from quarantining smallpox victims during the great wave of immigration to supporting deterrence with its Cold War chemical arsenal—the project centers around a group of residents who, today, are invoking past exposure to evaluate the acceptability of a proposed incinerator. Marshaling this evidence, this study argues that the tendency to assess risks as single events with isolated costs ignores how those most affected by risk-management decisions experience their outcomes. Instead, it attends to risk’s cumulative effects, exploring the processes by which toxins build up in the body over time, while also addressing the aggregate burdens of state-sanctioned exposure.