Leila Harris co-authored an article, “Health, environment and colonial legacies: Situating the science of pesticides, bananas and bodies in Ecuador” in Social Science & Medicine.
Abstract: Pesticide-related health impacts in Ecuador’s banana industry illustrate the need to understand science’s social production in the context of major North-South inequities. This paper explores colonialism’s ongoing context specific relationships to science, and what these imply for population health inquiry and praxis. Themes in postcolonial science and technology studies and critical Latin American scholarship guide this exploration, oriented around an ethnographic case study of bananas, pesticides and health in Ecuador. The challenge of explaining these impacts prompts us to explore discursive and contextual dynamics of pesticide toxicology and phytopathology, two disciplines integral to understanding pesticide-health linkages. The evolution of banana phytopathology reflects patterns of banana production and plant science in settings made accessible to scientists by European colonialism and American military interventions. Similarly, American foreign policy in Cold Warera Latin America created conditions for widespread pesticide exposures and accompanying health science research. Neocolonial representations of the global South interacted with these material realities in fostering generation of scientific knowledge. Implications for health praxis include troubling celebratory portrayals of global interconnectedness in the field of global health, motivating critical political economy and radical community- based approaches in their place. Another implication is a challenge to conciliatory corporate engagement approaches in health research, given banana production’s symbiosis of scientifically ‘productive’ military and corporate initiatives. Similarly, the origins and evolution of toxicology should promote humility and precautionary approaches in addressing environmental injustices such as pesticide toxicity, given the role of corporate actors in promoting systematic underestimation of risk to vulnerable populations. Perhaps most unsettlingly, the very structures and processes that drive health inequities in Ecuador’s banana industry simultaneously shape production of knowledge about those inequities. Public health scholars should thus move beyond simply carrying out more, or better, studies, and pursue the structural changes needed to redress historical and ongoing injustices.
Brisbois, B. W., Spiegel, J. M., & Harris, L. (2019). Health, environment and colonial legacies: Situating the science of pesticides, bananas and bodies in Ecuador. Social Science & Medicine, 239, 112529. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112529
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