Dr. Brian A. Hoey (Anthropology) will present his current research at the second session of a new series of “brown bags” sponsored by the Department of Public Health at Marshall University.
Contamination Experience and the Doubling of the World: Placing the West Virginia Water Crisis in the Context of Psychosocial Health
Abstract: There is a rich, diverse, and growing literature both documenting and examining disasters that have profoundly affected communities around the world. These range from so-called natural disasters—such as Hurricane Katrina—to those deemed human-made or technological, including the now well-researched Exxon-Valdez oil spill and other such “contaminating” events. This presentation to the Department of Public Health’s newly-launched Health Seminar Series is designed to help situate the West Virginia Water Crisis within a broad field of disaster events that share important elements at both the analytic and experiential levels. My intent is to suggest some conceptual tools through which we may examine accounts of those affected by the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia in early 2014. Principle among these is the notion that disasters such as toxic contamination create a “doubling of the world” wherein affected persons develop a sense of their lifeworld at odds with their common sense, everyday perceptions of it. Given the project team’s methodological focus on capturing unadorned oral histories of a demographically varied group of persons directly impacted by the spill, my role has been one of facilitating interpretation of recurring elements revealed in narratives of the ongoing, lived experience of the water crisis. Drawing on my own history of fieldwork on the role of place in the construction of individual and community identity, I give special attention to emergent themes of disruption in relationship to place and the potential long-term psychosocial impact of shifts in personal and group understandings of place and meaningful relationships with it.