Elena Sobrino
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Elena Sobrino

Elena uses anthropological methods and science and technology studies (STS) to study toxicity, water, science, and racial capitalism. Her research explores ecological and economic change in the deindustrialized Great Lakes region of North America, with a focus on Flint, Michigan and the ongoing water crisis there. Known since the postwar era as a "Rust Belt" city that has been a locus of racial equality movements and labor movements in the automobile industry, Flint today is now characterized by the struggle for environmental justice focused on water. Flint is surrounded by approximately twenty percent of the world’s freshwater supply in the five Great Lakes. But the Flint water crisis reveals a counterintuitive reality: geographic proximity to abundant natural resources does not necessarily guarantee water potability or access. Elena's research examines the cultural, political, and scientific projects that make the quotidian toxicities of racial capitalism more visible, and consequently more open to interventions that advance justice and sustainability. Her dissertation argues that the remediation of toxicity is not strictly technological, but tied to the elimination of policies and practices that uphold structures of inequality and racism. Through immersive ethnographic fieldwork, her dissertation documents how organized labor, environmental justice activism, and green chemistry offer different approaches to ameliorate past, present, and future toxic harm.

In 2018, MIT News published a profile of Elena's research and work at MIT. In 2019, she was a summer fellow at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry at the New School for Social Research, and a participant in the Quotidian Anthropocene New Orleans field campus. Her dissertation fieldwork has been supported by the Martin Family Fellowship for Sustainability, the J-WAFS Fellowship for Water Solutions, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Before coming to MIT, Elena worked in local crisis management during the Flint water crisis from 2015 to 2016. As assistant director of information and planning with the American Red Cross, she distributed bottled water and filters, worked in volunteer intake, compiled reports and briefings, and also served as a field worker with the Centers for Disease Control as they implemented a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response study to gather information about water access and mental health in Flint households. Elena graduated with a BA in cultural anthropology and music from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Key words

water; toxicity; ecology; green chemistry; deindustrialization; labor; racial capitalism; anthropology of value




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