The University of Arizona

In the margins of contamination: lead poisoning and the production of neoliberal nature in Uruguay

Daniel Renfrew


The article situates a lead poisoning epidemic in Uruguay within recent processes of neoliberal and environmental reform. It argues industrial contamination and its socio-political responses have become prevalent through neoliberal-inspired transformations in production and consumption, the dismantling of state services, and increased social vulnerability to affliction. Contrary to orthodox theories of neoliberal restructuring, however, environmental concerns have provoked state bureaucratic expansion, rather than contraction, bringing about new forms of environmental governance and enabling environmental politics across social scales. Neoliberal reforms in Uruguay have resulted in geographically uneven spatial arrangements, with ecology taking on central importance in both macro-level development strategies as well as in grassroots responses to intensified or newly recognized socio-environmental hazards. This article analytically draws together neoliberalism and environmentalism, or "neoliberal nature" in Uruguay. It shows how neoliberal engagements with nature and the environment structure risk for masses of people, providing the political tools for both environmental governance and the contestation of environmentally destructive practices.

Keywords: lead poisoning, neoliberalism, environmentalism, sustainable development, Uruguay

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