Toxic Relationships: Poisons, Health, and the Politics of Science and Trade in the Postcolonial World


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society


In the mid-twentieth century, international organizations and national governments began to recognize toxic substances as an important area of international politics. This study examines how the global history of toxic substances has shaped international politics since 1960. In this period, the governance of international and global affairs increasingly depended on experts from different countries and scientific disciplines reaching agreement on policy decisions. Based on multi-sited archival research in Europe, India, Kenya, and the United States, this project argues that expert-based politics of toxicity control did not merely reproduce existing power relations of the Cold War and colonialism; they also opened a space for their subversion by scientists from less powerful countries. At the same time, the global control regime failed to address the full range of toxic exposures, especially in non-industrialized countries. This history has left a lasting imprint on the institutional structures of global governance of health, trade, and development.