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Earth Poison
Nabil Ahmed 

This thesis explores the complex entanglements of natural and human violence by looking at three related cases: 1) the Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh in which a national struggle, genocide and extreme weather interacted; 2) the legal history and geography of arsenic—one of the deadliest earth poisons, whose identification was crucial in the formation of the forensic science of toxicology; and 3) a mine that takes part in the global circulation of resources that is at the same time a site of human rights/environmental violations. The thesis moves from Bangladesh to Victorian England to West Papua to show specific malign interactions of environment and human action and examine the way they demand new political and juridical responses. The thesis is a practice-based exploration that combines analysis, theory, narrative, film, map, and image. This multitudinous and creative method is essential in order to foreground a violence that is registered on multiple dimensions and territories, both seen a, malign and unseen. But it is especially important because the third corner of the triangle that holds the thesis together is an engagement with image making, sensing and aesthetics. The environmental violence I describe in this thesis requires a reconceptualisation of theoretical, historical, legal and aesthetic frames. In the case of the Bhola cyclone, it revealed one of the original moments of humanitarian reason and call for the refraction of humanitarianism. Two new, opposite types of response that are still with us are explored: on the one hand the humanitarian benefit concert and, on the other, military intervention propounded as a means to stop genocide. It is in response to these diffused causalities, involving human and nonhuman actors alike, that the legal forums of the future must emerge.

Nabil Ahmed’s website