Originating from the Latin contaminare “to touch together,” “corrupt,” “defile,” contamination is commonly framed as the presence of an undesirable element which effectively alters, spoils, harms, or destroys lifeforms, matter or other entities. Beyond thinking in terms of disease or invasion, the scope of globalised capitalist production affords us to consider that we live in a state of ubiquitous contamination. From microplastics to heavy metals, and radioactive compounds, the accumulation of strange molecules in the atmosphere, waters, and land, contribute to climate change and the melting of permafrost – potentially leading to the release of more greenhouse gases and millennia-old pathogenic viruses. Yet, not only physical materialities are concerned but also the immaterial and intangible, such as digital spam, moods, rumours, or protestor’s demands becoming viral. Like microbes and bacteria, computer viruses are trespassers, pervasively moving around the world and seeking to evade detection by filters and border controls.
While contamination assumes the possibility of non-contamination, Alexis Shotwell argues that “we have never been pure” (2016). Neither, we could add, have we ever been just human. As porous beings, the most part of our bodies constitutes a multiplicity of bacteria, microbes, fungi, and added chemicals. Thus, thinking that we are always already contaminated troubles notions of purity, as well as the stigmatisation of contaminated bodies, objects, or environments. Echoing Anna L. Tsing, without underestimating the real damage caused by environmental pollution, epidemics, and nuclear waste: quarantine is not an option. In her writing about the livelihoods of Matsutake mushrooms, Tsing proposes the alternative approach of “contamination as collaboration” (2015). She invites us to consider contamination and disturbance more productively and openly, as “transformation through encounter,” implying that “contaminated diversity is everywhere,” for better or worse.
For this issue, we encourage contributors to think contamination differently from rigid conceptualisations and prefigured connotations, as a concept that travels over neat categories, harbouring the potential of undoing borders, stimulating even ‘dead’ matter with velocity, and linking together supposedly separate and stagnant beings. This means attending to relationality and difference, on every scale, from molecular frictions to planetary movements. Along this line, contamination is about the in-betweenness, the liminality of the ‘ish’, the ‘not quite this or that’ – the process found in such entanglements. How, then, does thinking with contamination reconfigure conditions of knowing and being? What is at stake, for actors (human and nonhuman) and objects alike, in troubling our understanding of contamination? Who gets to decide what is defined as ‘toxic’ or ‘impure’ and what is designated as ‘clean’?
We encourage submissions in the direction of, but not limited to, the following topics:
- Contagious relationality in the form of crowds, mobs, protest, and state violence
- Nationalism, identity, colonialism, and questions of assimilation
- Uncontained, intrusive, and ‘abnormal’ subjects and subjectivity
- Infiltration and sabotage: contamination as a political subversive strategy
- Contamination and failure: corrupted files, collapsing (eco-)systems
- ‘Sublime’ landscapes: nuclear aesthetics, waste
- Immunity and sickness: epidemics, contagion, protection
- Contamination in a biopolitical regime: hygiene and sterility as normative forces
- Molecular unruliness: para-legal agency of bacteria, microbes, and spores
- Infectious bodies: porousness and permeability, devious sexuality, phantasies of infection
- Affect (for instance, noise and chaos theory) & emotions (for instance, contagious happiness, sadness, laughter)
- (Im-)purity: matters of the sacred and profane; nature/culture and similar dichotomies
- Spreading of language or communication practices
- Algorithmic or digital contamination (SPAM, computer viruses, crowdsourcing)
Please submit your abstract (maximum 300 words) or already written paper (maximum 5000 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 3. If you hand in an abstract, please consider that the full papers (3000 to 5000 words) are due March 2. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Soapbox also welcomes short essays, book/film/exhibition reviews, experimental writing and multi-media on for our website, all-year-round – send full drafts of 1000 to 1,500 words to email@example.com.
Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects for us to feature there.