Anthrotox Projects

Confronting the Uncertainty of Toxic Exposure. Knowledge‐making on Aflatoxins in Kenyan Maize

Konstantin Biehl (funded by MSC-ITN Anthusia)

I investigate how scientific institutions, farmers and traders produce and translate knowledge of the aflatoxins produced by the moulds of the Aspergillus flavus species as by‐products of its metabolism.They are the most toxic and potent hepatocarcinogenic natural compounds ever characterized. Being invisible and tasteless, the toxins can only be detected with specific testing technologies. In Kenya, people with limited or no access to testing methods, knowingly and unknowingly interact with moulds on an everyday basis. This invisibility is one source of toxic uncertainty. Different local and global institutions aim to address this problem by testing maize and linking aflatoxins to health problems. My research addresses the question of how the actors come to know and connects this knowledge production to forms of accountability. The exact intervention that addresses the lack of knowledge can generate economic problems for the farmers: the better access to testing tools renders food as potentially dangerous, but without resources to manage fungi or purchase aflatoxin‐free maize, the farmers’ situation is precarious. Additionally, regulators are forced to confiscate and destroy contaminated crops, resulting in further food shortages and adding to the problem of famine and malnutrition in parts of Kenya. Therefore, the fight against aflatoxin produces uncertainty in the very field it should address: food security. My research investigates these entanglements of toxic uncertainty, scientific and humanitarian intervention and accountability.

I hold a Bachelor of Science in Economics and completed his Master of Arts in Social Anthropology in 2018 with the thesis, “Knowledge on the Run: Epistemological Uncertainties in the Careers of Kenyan Long-Distance Runners.” I am interested in knowledge production in invisible and uncertain conditions including in the future, in human bodies and in contexts of toxicity. My research interests include epistemologies, questions of (un)certainty, anthropology of the body and STS.

E-waste as source of environmental contamination in Tanzania: Accumulation of organochlorines, brominated flame retardants and metals in coastal ecosystems and urban landfills

Ane Haarr (funded by UiO Life Science)

In my research project I will investigate whether e-waste is a source of environmental contamination in various coastal ecosystems. Tanzania represent a model of a growing economy with an increasing demand for electronic products along with insufficient recycling regulations and practices. In this region of the world, there is a need for empirical data on how chemicals associated with e-waste may enter the environment and accumulate in food webs. I will study tropical marine food webs, mangrove ecosystems and urban landfills and measure concentrations of contaminants such as flame retardants, plasticizers, PCBs and heavy metals, which are toxic compounds associated with e-waste. I am interested in studying if these chemicals accumulate in various water bodies, marine invertebrates and fish, domestic eggs and vegetables, and if they biomagnify in the food web.  I will study how contaminant levels and patterns reflect trophic level, lipid dynamics and possible sources, and whether they represent a threat to humans.

I have a master's degree in toxicology from the Department of Biosciences at the University of Oslo. Working with ecotoxicology, I am interested in how our environment is affected by anthropogenic contaminants and how these contaminants behave in organisms and in food webs My background is in Arctic biology and toxicology, and I have previously worked with Arctic seabirds and their accumulation of anthropogenic contaminants as top predators in the marine food web.


Following the making, implementation and enactment of e-POP regulations in their postcolonial encounters 

Franziska Klaas (funded by UiO Life Science)

My research project addresses the politics and practices of transnational efforts to regulate Persistent Organic Pollutants associated with electronic waste (e-POPs). Located at the interface of Social Anthropology and (Postcolonial) STS, my project aims at understanding the many-layered trajectories of e-POP regulations in the making, their implementation within the national frameworks of Tanzania and Norway as well as them shaping electronic waste recycling practices. Designed as a multi-sited ethnographical research, I will follow flows and connection of e-POPs within the ‘Global North’ and the ‘Global South’. Thus, my project depends on collaboration with a variety of actors ranging from scientist, to policy makers and entrepreneurs and includes research in Norway and Tanzania in equal parts. This symmetric approach does not intend to create sameness where there is difference or asymmetry bequeathed by history. Yet, it intends to take up a position that moves beyond narratives of functionality and dysfunctionality. Regulations and emerging or existing practices linked to e-POP regulations provided with history and coincidently put into context.

In order to achieve this my project includes the unfolding of relevant (post-)colonial histories in Norway and Tanzania, figuring out their conjunctions and detachments related to current e-POP regulations.

I hold a Bachelor in Cultural Anthropology and Islamic Studies (2013, Georg-August University of Göttingen) and a Master in Transcultural Studies (2016, University of Bremen). My Master Thesis explored competing waste and recycling infrastructures in Istanbul with a focus on power relations and ‘social struggles’. Prior to the AnthroTox Project I was holding a scholarship at the University of Bremen (Germany).

Practices of repair and repairability, notions of response and responsibility – approaches to consumer electronics and e-waste among repairers in Norway and Tanzania

Christian Medaas (funded by UiO Life Science)

My research focuses on practices of repair related to small consumer electronics (mostly smartphones, tablets, laptops, but also stereos and toaster ovens) in Norway and Tanzania, based on ethnographic fieldwork with small-scale repair technicians, community repair movements, and regimes of material re-use and recycling across locations. Through this, I engage theoretically with repair practices as social, material (and variously but invariably political) responses to issues of waste creation, designed irreparability and planned obsolescence, consumerism, and the accumulating problem of e-waste and its attendant persistent organic pollutants. I ask how repair practices in different forms and contexts can be forms of tinkering with the prescribed material and temporal realities and values of objects. I also interrogate how repair can constitute forms of resistance and care, attending to the practical/material, social, and political/environmental meanings that repair has for its practitioners, thus engaging with the contemporary right to repair discourse, as well as scholarship in sustainability, design, DIY culture, and science and technology studies.

By working collaboratively with repair technicians in both Norway and Tanzania, I engage with practices and practitioners of repair (and reuse/recycling) as they emerge, diverge, and converge across very different contexts. My research explores the ways in which people relate with increasingly ubiquitous but often decreasingly durable/reparable electronic devices and their designers, many of whom have become infamous for their implementation of barriers to repair (manifested in hardware, software, or even legal forms). What can repair practices tell us about design, (hyper)consumerism, global inequality, north/south relations, e-waste, and environmental crises?

Christian Medaas (b. 1984) is a Norwegian anthropologist with a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Oslo (2013). His master’s thesis focused on marine conservation and postcolonial politics. Prior to joining the Anthrotox project, he collaborated on a multidisciplinary research project concerning animal welfare, government legislation, and aquaculture in Norway and worked for a non-fiction author's labor union. Research interests: capitalism, repair, activism, practicality, material culture, nature, conservation, nuclear waste, heavy metal(s), nonhuman animals, biodiversity, science fiction, birds, ruins.


Chemical Pollution, Toxic Exposures, and Environmental Health in Tanzania

Signe Mikkelsen (funded by UiO Life Science)

My research explores the landscape of chemical pollution, anthropogenic toxicants, exposure, and environmental health in Tanzania. Based on one-year of ethnographic research in Dar es Salaam, the project investigates how various stakeholders, ranging from public health experts, traditional healers, government officials, NGOs, scientists to everyday citizens, perceive, address and negotiate these issues.

Tracing both past and current configurations, the project also examines what practices, responses, and politics materialise from them, as well as Tanzania as a destination of unequal flows of hazardous substances within a larger global political economy. Moreover, it analyses the uncertain space cancer and other toxin-related health effects inhibit within these larger concerns by assessing the notion of scientific evidence and expertise, thereby opening up for other ways of knowing and lay epidemiology.

Working in the intersections of anthropology, toxicology, and environmental health, this interdisciplinary study seeks to understand how and in what ways scientific evidence and bodily experience translates, or does not translate, into scientific knowledge and reaches levels of public consciousness in the framework of toxic exposures and health.

Furthermore, in attempting to understand the presence, proliferation, and harmful effects of anthropogenic toxicants - and bridging divides between the natural and social sciences - an important part of this project is also a joint-fieldwork component and on-going collaboration with two toxicology Ph.D. students from the University of Oslo, who also form part of the AnthroTox and UiO: Life Science initiative.

Signe Mikkelsen holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Oslo (2017). Her master’s thesis explored childhood cancer as a historical, social, and biomedical object in a paediatric oncology ward in Ghana. Within the UiO: Life Science initiative and AnthroTox project group, her Ph.D. project focuses on chemical pollution, toxic exposures, and environmental health in Tanzania. Academic interests: medical anthropology, pollution, environmental health, toxicology, anthropogenic toxicants, interdisciplinary research, exposure, anthropocene, public health, history, lay epidemiology, oncology, global health, waste, publics, hospital ethnography, Africa.

Understanding spatial and temporal trends in e-waste related pollutants in a developing country

Maja Nipen (funded by UiO Life Science)

The environmental chemistry part of the AnthroTox project aims at furthering the understanding of spatial and temporal trends in e-waste related pollutants like the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals in a developing country. Tanzania is used as a model to represent a developing country experiencing economic growth and growth in domestic use and import of electronics, and low degree of regulation and control on e-waste.

E-waste can contain some reusable components and some valuable metals, which makes recycling and/or reuse economically beneficial and desirable from a resource perspective. E-waste also contains potentially harmful substances such as mercury, cadmium and lead, as well as compounds that fall in the category of POPs, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). POPs are characterized by persistence in the environment, toxicity, potential for bioaccumulation and potential for long range environmental transport (LRT).

The content of harmful substances in e-waste imply that recycling of electronics need to occur under controlled circumstances. With informal recycling techniques, which include burning, shredding and dumping of unusable parts in landfills, the POPs contained in the e-waste can be released into the environment, and thus represent a threat to human health and the environment. Due to the physical/chemical properties of POPs, these processes can be particularly problematic when e-waste is handled in a warm climate.

There is currently little knowledge on the levels and distribution of e-waste related POPs and heavy metals in Tanzania, and other developing countries in a similar situation, which leaves a gap in our understanding of these pollutants that this project aims to help narrow.

I’m a PhD student in environmental chemistry at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oslo. I have a masters degree in organic analytical chemistry from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, where I have also worked as a chemical engineer. The topic for my Master's work was analytical challenges related to the analysis of chlorinated paraffins in air samples.  


Hacking Life: Electronic salvaging in an African digital age

Samwel Moses Ntapanta (funded by UiO Life Science)

My research explores the practices performed on electronic waste (e-waste) that support certain emerging local economies and their connections to global e-waste flows, value creation through salvaging and risks involved during e-waste encounters with humans in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar cities, Tanzania.

Despite these electronics often being regarded as waste in developed countries, it seems they emerge in global south perhaps not as waste, but as fluid temporal objects converged into new assemblages in which they take on fresh values through salvaging activities. Focusing on these practices, my research seeks to understand and elaborate on the ingenuity practices by local repairers known as fundi that seem to challenge the very concept of waste by creating new or adding value to the defunct electronics.

On top of that, the project will seek to understand urban mining practices of precious metals like gold, copper and the like from e-waste, how business is conducted in local settings and its connections to global markets. These salvaging activities offer the entry point for my study to comprehend the relationships of electronic devices and the people of the global south.

Before joining Anthrotox project, I studied Political Science and Sociology at University of Dar es Salaam from 2006 to 2009. After receiving my BA, I worked as a project coordinator at the Environment Media Network (EMNet), a local environmental media organization. I also worked as an Inspirator for ActionAid Denmark in Egypt before taking on and completing a Master's Degree in Human Security at the University of Aarhus. Research interests: human security, political economy, urban anthropology, science, technology, and society, pan-Africanism, infrastructures, waste.

Pesticide use and health effects in western Kenya: agricultural practices, toxic exposure and understandings of risk and causation

Miriam Waltz (funded by MSC-ITN Anthusia)

Globally there are increasing concerns about links between glyphosate use, a commonly used pesticide, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a group of blood cancers. There is strong disagreement in scientific debates about whether there is a causal relationship, yet public perception of glyphosate’s toxicity and its effects on the human body animates court cases in the US, contradictory regulations in the EU and increasing concern in East Africa, where glyphosate is widely used. Western Kenya in particular has a history of cash crop farming dating back to colonialism, accompanied by toxic exposure, for example through DDT. This project explores how the link between cancer and glyphosate is perceived, imagined, explained and what practices arise from it, in a context where many livelihoods depend on pesticide use but where the rising cancer burden is causing more and more concern. It looks at the response of policymakers and researchers, collectives and activists, and individual farmers, farm workers and their families, placing pesticide exposure in East Africa in a broader understanding in relation to global political, economic and historical processes.

Published May 16, 2018 1:57 PM - Last modified Oct. 8, 2018 5:55 PM