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His work focuses on the health outcomes related to food insecurity. Bob Whitby writes about bioscience, geoscience, physics, space and planetary sciences, psychology and sociology. Reach him at , or whitby uark. The University of Arkansas Campus Experts website is a searchable database of experts who can talk to the media on current events.

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More Stories. Here we follow to some extent Henri Lefebvre's account of the semantic field of everyday life in his second volume of The Critique of Everyday Life. We are attracted to it precisely because it is attentive to the totality of relations, practices and materialities involved in a politics of risk, rather than falling back into a prioritisation of discourse over other forces.


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From within the semantic field of the everyday, the synthesis and appropriation of medical discourses should be seen as normal, in which the material practices and social relations of everyday life opens up antinomies, spaces for the contestation of expertise. Viewing risk as one discourse within a wider semantic field, embedded in space and the social relations of everyday life, enables us to see a more complex political ecology at work in risk society than is present in Beck's narrative of scientific knowledge production.

In the case of tipping, by the s the discursive production of hazard already relied on a complex inter-textual combination of elements from public sanitary science, laboratory-based bacteriology and popular conceptions of hazard. A complaint made by the London County Council to the Ministry of Health in regarding tipping in the vicinity of the Becontree estate is typical of the generic features of risk deployed against tipping as a practice: Tips of the kind indicated [crude tips] give rise to offensive smells due not only to the foul character of the deposits, but also to the combustion or partial combustion of the heaps with the accompanying destructive distillation of animal and vegetable matter.


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The danger to health from dust blown from these heaps in dry windy weather and also from breeding of flies is also one which cannot but be viewed with some apprehension as the population of the vicinity grows. Moreover, the presence of rats, which find in the heaps an abundant food supply, as well as the pollution of ditches and watercourses are matters which should be borne in mind. This suggests the continuing influence of sanitary accounts of disease, which had been a major component in arguments for incineration before Sometimes this was seen in implicit associations of particular events and the environmental impact of dumping.

For example, it was noted in the Romford Times that T. The second concern expressed above combined dust and flies as vectors of disease and illustrates the influence of a bacteriological theory of disease. For example, bacteriological accounts of disease were certainly an increasingly important component of understandings of the risks associated with dumping between the wars. Together, the fly and the dump presented contradictions that urgently required resolution if they were not to undermine the progressive claims of suburbanisation.

Similarly, the rat population was a constant source of fear, both as an implied vector of disease, but also as a concern with the wider ecological impact of refuse tips. The consciousness of a wider ecological impact of tipping points towards the co-existence of popular discourses of risk alongside, and integrated into, expert knowledge. Such wider concerns were rarely central to medical discourse, but they were commonly reported and need to be taken account of.

Knowledge of risk did not emerge simply from the internal disputes between sanitary and bacteriological approaches to public medicine, but also took account of wider cultural fears.

The co-existence of risks with different epistemic foundations exemplifies the inter-textual character of risk discourse in the field of everyday life. Risk was a contingent ensemble of discourses within a semantic field that could be produced, contested, deconstructed and reassembled. It is this wider field in which scientific knowledge operated that would make risk discourse subject to appropriation by counter-hegemonic forces. Simultaneously, the medical discourse of refuse disposal involved a reflexive bifurcation between the environmental approaches of sanitary medicine and the bacteriological accounts of the new laboratory medicine.

This may seem superficially similar to Beck's account of the operation of scientific knowledge in the risk society. However, the presence of this antinomy needs to be understood in the context of the reproduction of urban space indicated above. Controlled tipping emerged between the wars as a way of reconciling the needs of urban areas with the necessity of exposing the suburban fringe to urban refuse.

It was a means of mitigating the risks of tipping while reproducing urban space and the waste regime on which it depended. The contestation of controlled tipping did not emerge in the way Beck suggests should occur in risk society, that is from the reflexive scientific demonstration of controlled tipping to be inadequate to the task it had been set.


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Instead, contestation emerged from within the already contradictory framing of risk discourse within everyday life. This discourse was complex, inter-textual and open to contradiction, contestation and transformation.

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Following the creation of the Ministry of Health after the First World War, the attention given to urban waste disposal by central government greatly increased. It became the agency most directly involved in negotiating between the interests of different localities, and was in the strongest position regarding expertise to decide questions regarding appropriate technological solutions. Advocates of controlled tipping built their claims for the superiority of controlled tipping around the epistemic claim that biological sciences had rendered epidemiological conceptions of disease redundant.

One of the leading authors of professional manuals on waste disposal of the period, A. It has had and still has, though in diminishing numbers, its critics. Medical officers and others, who are concerned more primarily with the hygienic side of local government administration than the strictly economic, required to be convinced that the method carried no detrimentalities with it. Controlled tipping emerged as an attempt to reconcile the particular competing interests of spatially distinct communities while, at a general level, securing the reproduction of urban social life.

It was an attempt to legitimise the return to a form of disposal that medical and professional discourse had previously worked hard to delegitimise. It is an example of a technological fix that materialised an attempt to smooth over contradictions at both the levels of social relations and scientific discourse. The bacteriological legitimation of controlled tipping was forced to enter an existing semantic field of everyday understandings of the risks of refuse disposal. The subsequent contestation of controlled tipping reveals the extent to which risk discourse was contingent upon this pre-existing field.

For example, the claim that controlled tipping would be more economic than existing systems of incineration was contested by appropriating the discourse of risk. This occurred in arguments that followed the Salford Corporation's proposal to adopt controlled tipping in the s. In Salford, arguments for technological change were explicitly driven by the search for economies.

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The Salford Cleansing Department conducted a series of public experiments at its Stott Lane tip in Pendleton that were designed to reassure the public. Suspicion of the new techniques continued to activate opposition, however. In December , the Salford City Reporter carried a letter from one resident that argued vehemently against controlled tipping both as an economy measure and for its environmental health effects. This controlled tipping is supposed to be an economy measure, but is it? The economy men of the Salford Council are going to find the rates have not benefited to the extent that they expected, and the menace of infection and contagion is very real.

In my opinion, municipalities who have adopted this scheme have reverted back to Eastern practices of dumping their rubbish on the roadside for two and four-legged animals to scavenge amongst. In , the Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir Cooper Rawson, sparked a public spat between proponents of controlled tipping and those who continued to claim that incineration was best way of dealing with domestic refuse.

Unhealthy Places: Ecology of Risk in Urban...

The argument, carried on in The Times newspaper, illustrates both the growing controversy surrounding refuse disposal in this period, and the difficulty facing attempts to legitimise controlled tipping. In other words, the committee advocates the continuation of the existing insanitary dumps, for controlled tipping is merely a polite name for dumping.

Rawson's claims were met with the ire, and confusion, of a growing body of enthusiasts for controlled tipping among local authorities.

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In short, Rawson didn't understand the technology. Watson a member of the institute of civil engineers, for example, argued that controlled tipping might be appropriate in isolated rural areas, but could hardly be appropriate to the needs of urban refuse disposal. As the Chairman of Romford Council remarked in , it was impossible to move refuse tips every time new houses were built as they would eventually run out of space. For all the efforts made to legitimate it, controlled tipping remained a controversial technology.

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Its failure to finally reconcile the requirements of urban reproduction with public health and the wider environment is in part along with a complex range of other issues at the root of the present-day displacement of landfill as the technology of choice in refuse disposal. We have done this because we feel that, while they provide a crucial historical context, those critiques that focus on the chronological claims for risk society fail to fully engage with, or revise, the fundamentals of Beck's theoretical contribution, which are to be found in its conceptual apparatus.

Beck's development of the risk society concept is too rich simply to collapse because it does not fit a single, very particular historical example. Rather we have sought to test its limits in a particular historical context. As a minimum we would claim that there is little evidence so far that would support pushing the risk society back into the early twentieth century, let alone the nineteenth century as has been suggested, and that our example argues against doing so. However, we do think that there are grounds to go beyond this minimal conclusion, or, at least to suggest that it is possible to enrich the risk society thesis.

Indeed, it is clear that the risks of tipping were articulated through senses of place and community that included, but were not limited to, class identities. Moreover, we have argued that any account of the politics of risk should engage with the politics of space and the capitalist demands of urban reproduction. We have suggested that there was a political ecology at work in the siting of refuse disposal facilities such as controlled tips in which the requirements of urban reproduction were privileged. It was this privileging of urban space that was contested by those communities affected by refuse disposal.

Class is not the only way in which the exploitative demands of capitalist accumulation is expressed, and this only becomes apparent when activities such as waste disposal are viewed from the perspective of the everyday. The political ecology of risk remained ultimately rooted in the social relations of urban capitalism and the processes, political and economic, of their daily reproduction. Rather we wish to see medical discourses and their material manifestations in technologies controlled tipping in the context of the ensemble of social relations, material practice and ideology.

Only in this context do the unerring efforts made by experts and political elites to reconcile the political economy of a privileged urban space with the complex demands of the semantic field of the everyday make sense. It was far from easy for experts to impose a monopolistic vision of risk and its mitigation. Indeed, it was precisely through the antinomies generated through the everyday that it was possible to contest and modify scientific knowledge production. Rather than a process of the immanent self-transcendence of medico-scientific claims, we see an active contestation of those claims between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces within the semantic field of the everyday.

Indeed, we suggest that attention to the conceptual apparatus of the everyday is one way in which it may be possible to move ahead in understanding the complex and unstable relations between professional and quotidian knowledge.