Christiane Schürkmann

"Limits of Hybridity. Towards a Theory of Toxic Objects"

Over the past decades, industrial societies have produced a range of substances whose effects humans increasingly identify as being toxic for human and non-human life – for example radioactive waste, carbon, microplastics, or herbicides such as glyphosate. This development raises the question of how these socio-chemical and socio-technological products of ‘modern’ societies can be conceptualized from a perspective located within the social sciences. These fabricated ‘objects of modernity’ do not only call for the knowledge and investigation of the natural sciences, they also affect society at large in its great challenge of figuring out how to ‘detoxify’ and dispose, control, and altogether avoid such active substances. Drawing on different approaches of the material turn as well as various concepts of objects from the social and cultural sciences, the paper suggests a theoretical perspective on toxic objects as objects that confront us with their dangerous activity.

In doing so, the following questions will be discussed: How are toxic objects identified and which conflicts emerge between the different actors involved? How do these objects decenter the notion of humans’ idea of hegemony over ‘nature’ and therefore over all its constituents, i.e. substances? How do these objects reveal the limits of hybridity between humans and non-humans, or between nature and culture, respectively? By thus creating a perspective on toxic objects, the paper aims to strengthen a more nuanced view on contemporary relationships between human beings in (industrial) modern knowledge societies and their socio-chemical fabrications as momentous products of a dualistic way of thinking nature and culture.


Dr. Christiane Schürkmann (1983) is Research Fellow (postdoc) at the Institute of Sociology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. (Germany). Since 2017, she is speaker of the Research Group “Posthuman. Perspectives on Nature/Culture” at the Research Center SOCUM. Her research interests lie in the fields of Environmental Sociology, Phenomenology, Posthuman Theories, Science and Technology Studies, Sociology of Art, Sociology of Knowledge and Sociology of Materialism. Her habilitation project focuses on nuclear waste management and effects of toxic materials on societies. Current publications:  Natur/Kultur in Aushandlung. Überlegungen zu einer empirischen Theorie der Human(de)zentrierung am Fall der ‚Endlagerung‘ hoch radioaktiver Abfallstoffe. In: Larissa Deppisch, Markus Rudolfi, Lukas Sattlegger (ed.): Reihe ISOE Soziale Ökologie, Frankfurt am Main, 2019. (forthcoming); Einer strahlenden Zukunft entgegen. Zur utopischen und ideologischen Rhetorik der Nachhaltigkeit in der Endlagerung hoch radioaktiver Abfallstoffe, in: Soziologie und Nachhaltigkeit, 2019 (forthcoming).