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Vol 10 No 2: Embodied Inequalities of the Anthropocene

Structural Vulnerability and Toxicity Experiences in the Uruguayan Soybeanisation Process

February 28, 2022
June 30, 2023


Fuelled by agribusiness, transgenic soybean crops, genetically modified to withstand pesticide use, have increased in use during the last 20 years in the Southern Cone of Latin America. Plantations are understood as examples of ‘modular simplifications’ in ‘patchy Anthropocene’ landscapes (Tsing et al. 2019), where the attempt to reduce diversity may have social and ecological feral effects as diseases and toxins spread. In Uruguay, as an agro-exporter country, soybean expansionist processes correlate with an increased use of pesticides. Based on an ethnographic study (2016–2018) carried out in the main Uruguayan agricultural region, this Research Article seeks to analyse the experiences of toxicity among agricultural workers and rural inhabitants in the soybeanisation context. I propose that pesticide effects transcend biomedical diagnoses of ‘intoxication’. I also contend that the experience of toxicity can be understood as occurring along a continuum in the daily life of sufferers, which encompasses chemical and biological processes, their affects, intersectional conflicts, lay concepts of illnesses, informal self-care networks, and unequal access to health services. This ethnography demonstrates that the experience of toxic suffering embodies inequalities in environmental health in the time of the Anthropocene and is shaped by structural vulnerabilities and politics of exposure.