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Book Forum: Daniel Renfrew’s Life Without Lead: Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay

Introduction

Daniel Renfrew’s Life Without Lead: Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay (2018) is a masterful undertaking on the anthropology of disaster and its everydayness. An ethnographic portrayal that is prismatic in its attention, the book combines numerous elements––place, civic performance, history, political economy––to bear on the lead poisoning epidemic in Montevideo, Uruguay at the turn of the 21st

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Response to comments on Life without Lead

It is both a vexing challenge and a special privilege to write and publish a book. To have first-rate scholars and scholar-activists carefully read, digest, and reflect upon it makes me humbled and deeply grateful. So my first comment is one of gratitude to my four colleagues who took the time and effort to engage so thoughtfully and generously with …

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Sleeping Environmental Problems and Academic Work: The Space Between Knowledge Production and Activism

The case of the lead epidemic in La Teja, a working-class neighborhood, and surrounding areas of Montevideo in the early 2000s, was one of the first warning calls that alerted Uruguayan society about the externalities of a socio-economic model based on the exploitation of people and nature. What made it possible for this case to become emblematic and allow this …

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Contamination, Crisis, and Hope in Uruguay

How do people routinely exposed to past and present hazards created by facilities such as an oil refinery, a fracking site, an incinerator, or a smelting plant, think and feel about the risks posed to their surroundings and their health? A now more than two decades-long “relational turn” in the social sciences has taught us that the true source of …

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We All Have a Little Bit of Lead

In Daniel Renfrew’s new book Life Without Lead, the statement “we all have a little lead” was deployed in millennial Uruguay to radically different effect. It was used by public health officials to quell parents’ anger and simmering political volatility in the face of widespread childhood lead contamination in many of Montevideo’s poorest neighborhoods. These officials diminished the children’s …

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Bringing Social Science to Life

Daniel Renfrew’s Life Without Lead is an exhaustively researched, imaginatively conceived, and empathetically written ethnographic study of lead poisoning and environmental justice activism in Montevideo, Uruguay. Renfrew argues that “lead poisoning took on the status of a publicly conscious, media-propelled event by linking up with larger stories affecting Uruguay and in this sense acted as a ‘prism’ and ‘social surrogate’ …

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