Microplastics by different means? How microplastics generally is a instrument for inter/trans-disciplinary engagement – Marine Coastal Cultures

by Sarah Schönbauer & Sven Bergmann

Though there’s increasingly information about plastic particles within the atmosphere, the affect of microplastic particles on the ecosystem, wildlife and the human physique remains to be unexplored. Nonetheless, the potential impact of such particles has grow to be a core concern in our up to date societies, tangible within the far-reaching media protection or in scientific conferences particularly devoted to interact with microplastics.

In one in every of such conferences, the Micro2018 in Lanzarote (1) Richard Thompson, professor of organic and marine sciences on the College of Plymouth and the eponym of the time period microplastics, gave a keynote. He claimed that apart from the unquestionably essential function of the pure sciences, the social sciences too ought to play an essential function in future analysis on plastic particles within the atmosphere. He inspired social scientists to participate in conferences such because the Micro2018, and acknowledged that this involvement could be useful for the general engagement with microplastics. Whereas we, two students within the social and cultural sciences, particularly within the area of cultural anthropology and Science and Know-how Research (STS), assume that this is a crucial declare certainly, we additionally assume {that a} nearer involvement must be specified.


Microplastics from Lanzarote © Sarah Schönbauer

There’s a twofold motive for this: First, the convention periods in Lanzarote involving social science shows on microplastics attracted a big and interesting crowd, and second, there’s a plethora of issues that the social and cultural sciences might help to interact with. For instance, we see it as essential to critically mirror on the social, cultural and political dimensions of (micro)plastics, resembling asking how residents and scientists handle their (various) issues or how our societies extra usually cope with a but partially undefined object. Therefore, whereas the pure sciences are predominantly involved with discovering a definition of microplastics, analysing its attainable results on ecosystems, animals and people, the social sciences unsurprisingly present one other twist.

Many research in STS have handled the entanglements of nature and tradition. Thereby, many research are critically partaking with elementary orders in right this moment’s societies and are difficult what’s societally conceived of as “pure” or what’s thought to be “social”. These theoretical issues are useful when critically questioning options to fight ocean plastics, particularly when options are prominently based mostly on concepts of cleansing and separation: When organic life turns into entangled or aggregated with the non-living, resembling when plastic particles relate to marine animals/micro organism, these rising entities needs to be studied totally, additionally relating to questions of care, duty, and relationality (2). Conducting analysis past conventional classifications, resembling nature and tradition, is subsequently not solely an educational train but additionally all the time a political dedication within the seek for different ideas of the atmosphere we dwell in and with. Accordingly, we argue that the aggregation of plastic particles within the ocean and the emergence of recent hybrid lifeforms on artificial surfaces can function a mirrored image for the way artificial polymers are a part of our lives, environments, infrastructures and even our bodies.

The dispersion and ubiquity of (micro)plastics and associated substances within the ocean and different environments results in one other outstanding concern within the social and cultural sciences: the intertwinements of science, publics and politics. For instance, research of plastic in on a regular basis life have revealed relations between plastic and (non-)human life that present advanced “materials politics of plastics” (3). Unpacking the fabric politics of plastics permits us to traditionally and ethnographically situate plastics and ask essential questions, resembling: how is it conceived of as waste, how is air pollution conceptualized and doubtlessly challenged by plastics and microplastics, who’s chargeable for its disposal and what highly effective stakeholders are concerned within the discourse. Thus, contextualizing (micro)plastics as waste and air pollution additionally opens up the moral, social and political dimensions of its use, distribution and discard (4). In keeping with this, discard research, a brand new department in STS, are essential of shopper alternative and behavior research and slightly level to the function of infrastructures in waste administration (5).
One other instance for issues in social and cultural research relating to plastics and (non-)human life are plastic fragments and the rise of plastic ranges in distant environments or in wildlife and people. It’s nonetheless essential to unpack the in any other case implicit controversies that permit a essential reflection not solely on environmental toxins but additionally how they’re detected, how scientific research produce particular scientific “truths” or how thresholds are in steady negotiation (6) Furthermore, different issues demand a cautious linking of the plastic/microplastic debates to questions of environmental justice. Environmental justice means to interact with the worldwide politics of air pollution and particularly addressing e.g. the colonial race/class-related dimensions of air pollution. It calls for us to debate affectedness and vulnerability. Discussing environmental justice additional means to show concerned actors, networks and politics and foster participatory analysis by critically “inviting apprehension” (7).

In conclusion, we strongly agree with Richard Thompson that there’s an pressing want to incorporate the social sciences with the intention to create areas for engagement that transcend issues relating to technical accuracy of detection or finding microplastics within the atmosphere. However we’d additionally like so as to add that these reflective stances run in a different way, resembling once they problem taken as a right assumptions or when they’re essential of the social and financial realities that encompass us. We declare that the function of the social sciences on this context can’t be diminished to communication or moderation between the pure sciences and the general public. Moderately, we argue that the social sciences are offering a essential reflection and understanding of (micro)plastics as an rising socio-ecological phenomenon that has particular politics. Which means we discover (micro)plastics a instrument of attainable inter- and transdisciplinary engagements and collaborations that foster relationships of scientists by different means. It might function a very good means to deal with the vulnerability of marine environments starting from euthrophication to world warming to overfishing. Past that, (micro)plastic appears to be the right instrument for a essential dialogue of mass manufacturing and mass consumption, the bounds of waste disposal and recycling and its ecological penalties within the close to future. These problematizations would possibly permit us to align totally different views with the intention to convey collectively issues of concern in but unknown methods.


(1) Baztan J.; Bergmann M.; Carrasco A.; Fossi C.; Jorgensen B.; Miguelez A.; Pahl S.; Thompson R.C.; Vanderlinden J-P. Eds. MICRO 2018. Destiny and Affect of Microplastics: Data, Actions and Options. 2018;

(2) Puig de la Bellacasa, M. Issues of care: Speculative ethics in additional than human worlds; College of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2017.
(3) Gabrys, J.; Hawkins, G.; Michael, M. Eds. Accumulation: The Materials Politics of Plastic; Routledge: London, 2013.

(4) Hawkins, G. The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Garbage; Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, UK, 2006.
(5) Liboiron, M. The What and the Why of Discard Research. Discard Research, 2018;

(6) Vogel, S. A. The politics of plastics: the making and unmaking of bisphenol A “security”. American Journal of Public Well being. 2009, 99(S3), S559-S566; DOI 10.2105/AJPH.2008.159228.

(7) Shapiro, N.; Zakariya, N.; Roberts, Jody. A Cautious Alliance: From Enumerating the Surroundings to Inviting Apprehension. Participating Science, Know-how, and Society. 2017, 3, 575–602;

Dr. Sarah Schönbauer is a postdoctoral researcher on the Munich Middle for Know-how in Society, Technical College of Munich, 80333 Munich, Germany. She at the moment works on the BMBF-funded “Plastics-Publics-Politics” undertaking, a sub-project of the consortium “SubµTrack – Modern Analysemethoden für Submikroplastik”.

Dr. Sven Bergmann is a postdoctoral researcher on the German Maritime Museum (Deutsche Schifffahrtsmuseum – Leibniz-Institut für maritime Geschichte)  in Bremerhaven. His analysis on plastic waste at sea has been funded by the German Analysis Basis and Volkswagen Basis.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button