Environmental (in)justice and 'expert knowledge': the discursive construction of dioxins, 2,4,5-T and human health in New Zealand, 1940 to 2007
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the discourses of human health and synthetic chemicals that emerged in New Zealand, focusing specifically on the 1970s dioxin controversy. Dioxins were highly toxic contaminants in the herbicide 2,4,5-T, one of the country’s most widely used agricultural chemicals from 1948 to 1987. The theoretical framework of the thesis is grounded in poststructural notions about power/knowledge and ideas from sociology and science studies that highlight the inevitable uncertainties that surround human exposure to chemicals. Archival material from the Agricultural Chemicals Board and the Department of Health, chemical industry publications and a range of other textual materials were analysed using a discourse methodology that focused on intertextuality. To better understand the discursive construction of dioxins in New Zealand, the role of the chemical industry, government and opposition groups in constructing, resisting and politicising dioxins is described. The thesis reconceptualizes environmental (in)justices as not exclusively local, but as boundless, discursive and socio-historic in character. It also reflects on how resolving contemporary dioxin injustices in New Zealand, themselves the result of historical exposures, are problematically still being approached primarily through a reductionist approach to health and chemicals.