Accepted paper:

Elementary Relations - Bromine in Self, Society and World


Joseph Dumit (UC Davis)

Paper short abstract:

While elements may appear to be individuals, they are relations and relational in ways that offer social theory and STS a wider analogical vocabulary to play with. Taking on bromine, this paper explores reactive and responsive chemistry, biology, industry and sociality.

Paper long abstract:

Relations, connections, affinities, affects are concepts as important as actors, interests, and forces. While elements may appear as individuals, they offer STS a wider relational vocabulary to play with. Ironically combining three previous 4S presentations, bromine relates fracking, fascia, and improvisation. A hyperreactive halogen, bromine is a widely used pesticide, flame retardant, and coat for power-plants to reduce mercury emissions. That same reactivity in animal bodies is carcinogenic. Often banned, bromine exceptions to the law are repeatedly permitted because it is cheap. Bromide salts are used in drilling fluids to make the fluids heavier, and also brought up in wastewater from fracking operations, where they poison rivers and drinking water. This same reactivity inside bodies was in 2014 discovered to be essential to life. Bromine was found to crosslink collagen IV elastic proteins in tissues allowing the formation of basement membrane and fascia scaffolds. These dynamic structures serve as insulation, glue, guides, and barriers that dynamically mediate cellular growth and signaling. Bromine thus forms the relations (membranes) that form the relations (integration, connection, differentiation) between parts of the body as parts. As one researcher wrote, "it is still difficult to discern the balance between a role for the ECM (extra-cellular matrix) in simply providing a permissive structural support or actively directing changes to cell and tissue morphology." A balance between permissive structure and active direction is precisely the definition of an improvisational game. Bromine will thus be used as its own model for relation in self, society, and world.

panel T122
Elements Thinking