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Blue binders of white donors: sorting race out in South African IVF

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Miracle babies. The microscopic enchantments of embryos. The image of a woman holding that much-desired infant. In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is replete with awe-inducing imagery, often bordering on the near religious. Kylie, an embryologist I interviewed in Cape Town described the images of IVF as part of the inspiring stories that drew her into the field: “I watched a …

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Beach

Beaches are good places to think with about waste and ruination. They were once generically places of waste (in the etymological sense of “unoccupied, uncultivated”) while recognized as actants in processes of ruination—including erosion that produced their defining shingle and sand, the death and decay of what washes up on them, and the shipwrecks they induced. In the industrializing world …

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Texting Like A State: mHealth and the first thousand days in South Africa

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What does making a new life look like from the perspective of a mobile phone?

For the phone of a woman using the public health care system in Cape Town, South Africa, in all likelihood involves a series of WhatsApp conversations with a partner, with friends and kin. The phone helps with “Googling” questions about health and childcare, maybe about …

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Beauty

In the late 1990s, a group of Japanese researchers set out to investigate whether small-scale gold mining operations near the shores of East Africa’s Lake Victoria were resulting in mercury contamination of local fish and human populations. The group included Dr. Masazumi Harada who began his medical career in the early 1960s by studying the devastating effects of severe mercury …

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Residue

Waste and toxicity are foundational categories of knowledge for the Anthropocene. Consider how natural scientists approach the topic. Empirically, the “great acceleration” they’ve identified corresponds to a massive increase in human-generated wastes: carbon molecules, toxic chemicals, radioactive particles, plastics, and much more. Measuring molecular concentrations of these materials, and mapping these measurements onto models of earth systems (such as the …

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Drift

The ocean has long been considered the ideal location for the disposal of waste—including, among many other things, treated and untreated sewage poured easily into the sea, the vast quantities of sand and earth displaced into continental margins by harbor dredging, and the irredeemable byproducts of nuclear reactions secretly sunk. The ocean’s vastness, viscerally encountered and culturally reproduced, has seemed …