Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
On the Philippines’ export banana plantations, chemical drift from aerially sprayed fungicides consistently escapes the perimeter of the agricultural estate. Invisible and untraceable by modern managerial schemas, they fly up into the air and into bodies, becoming nodes of externalized cost borne by humans and non-humans with no formal connection to industry. This paper follows the Davao City civil movement “Citizens Against Aerial Spray” and reflects on the strategies its members have taken to define the objects of their activism. A major roadblock to the movement has been the fact that plantation corporations apply fungicides not in singular form but in mixed “chemical cocktails,” as a technique to circumvent the cycles of virulence and resistance on their estates. Chemical cocktails make it impossible to draw links between a given active ingredient and any particular medical symptom. They clash with Western-derived paradigms that frame both the modern regulation of chemicals and the environmental movements against them on the basis of individual active ingredients, as demonstrated by the well-known cases of DDT, DBCP, methyl bromide, and glyphosate. Borrowing from Gregory Bateson, this piece considers the concept of a “chemical double bind” to understand why activists chose to protest against chemical method rather than chemical content in their effort to reinsert themselves into the plantation imaginaries that have tried to efface them. Why was it that campaigners shifted the symbol of their oppression from the banana industry, plantation agriculture, and the chemical cocktails themselves, to the image of an airplane flying overhead?