- Edges of Exposure: Toxicology and the Problem of Capacity in Postcolonial Senegal by Noémi Tousignant
Edges of Exposure is a powerful contribution to ethnographically grounded STS research focused on toxicology, global environmental health science, and what might be termed postcolonial laboratory life. Focusing on the various ways in which toxicologists in postcolonial Senegal confront, negotiate, and make-do with political and economic conditions that directly or indirectly interrupt the practice of toxicological science itself, Noémi Tousignant argues that studying toxicology in Senegal is a matter of further understanding the interlinked postcolonial situations, infrastructures, and financial flows contributing to the "struggle for toxicological capacity" (16).
The book draws careful attention to the making and unmaking, the doing and undoing, the thinking and unthinking of toxicological practice, possibility, and capacity. It explores these processes in a postcolonial Senegal confronting not simply the enduring debt stressors of structural adjustment programs, but also a struggle for the right to the development of appropriate science and technology resources and tools to effectively meet poison control and mitigation goals.
Edges of Exposure, in this way, is a story of the complex navigation of the science, technology, and governance practices that toxicologists in Senegal face and what they do and hope to do as postcolonial agents, toxicological experts, and concerned Senegalese citizens. The struggle chronicled in this important study is also one about the very globalization of technoscience itself and the politics of equivalence that often creep up and even dominate the focus of "global" STS studies. [End Page 1125]
Despite any direct engagement with the work of STS guru Bruno Latour, Edges of Exposure is in close dialogue with the idea that "The negotiation on the equivalence of nonequivalent situations is always what characterizes the spread of a science" (Latour 1983:155). Tousignant is attentive to the politics of equivalence that both steer and complicate trans-national connections and desires of technoscientific capacity, expertise, and research sustainability. In general, the focus is on the globalization of toxicology, but the book is also about the unique contextualization of toxiciological science, knowledge, and governance in Senegal. Senegalese ecotoxicologists and environmental health scientists are upholding the logic of technoscientific equivalence, both on their own terms and within the terms of globally dominant science infrastructures and expectations. Toxicology not only travels to Senegal in the regular North-to-South route but undergoes rearrangement, and with that a re-visioning process that informs how capacity itself is understood.
In the Introduction to Edges of Exposure, Tousignant provides a detailed sketch of Senegal within a pan-African context involving both mounting toxic exposures, enduring structural adjustment struggle, and anemic institutions intended for toxics control and protection. Holding the book together is the primary goal of using ethnography to try to actually "follow" toxicologists as they navigate three dominant institutions, from the public university laboratory, to centers of ecotoxicological projects, to a national poison control center. Following these science practitioners throughout these various institutional spaces reveals the social contours and lived experience of capacity. In this way, the book "weaves together an account of intermittent and insufficient investments in toxicological capacity with fine-grained descriptions of how scientists have kept equipment, labs, projects, and careers going" (5).
As Tousignant points out, "Its main focus is on what 'good science' has meant—in practice, memory, goals, and dreams—to chronically under-funded and ill-equipped scientists" (5). On the so-called "edges of exposure," we learn that there is a critical story of lack, loss, and capacity building that creates a situation where scientists are working against the odds. Tracking toxicologists in Senegal revealed not only lived experiences of loss, but also a story of capacity: "Following lines of loss can thus help us to understand what scientific capacity, both narrowly and broadly defined, means in settings of (threatened) peripheralization, scarcity, dependence, and stagnation" (14). These scientists interact often with aged and broken [End Page 1126] laboratory equipment that interrupts their ability to do science. In this way, "Capacity is equipment and supplies that were...