The Unpure Imagination series engages with and challenges notions of toxicity, purity, pollution, and restoration in an always compromised world.

At the foundations of modern environmentalism is the premise that nature must be protected from contamination. “Purity” is invoked as a paramount value for land, water, air, and bodies. Yet the impossibility of returning to some untouched Eden of the Western imagination is increasingly apparent. Nature was never pure and never will be.

Nevertheless, it is vital to acknowledge the ongoing, uneven realities of how toxicants and trash impair the flourishing of human and more-than-human life. Environmental illnesses, caused by often invisible substances that have become ubiquitous in an industrial world, are increasingly common, with poor and otherwise marginalized communities often the most prone to harm. The ways that scientific and governmental institutions conceive of and respond to environmental contamination has profound implications for which futures are made possible and which are foreclosed.

In this context, we ask: how do discourses around (im)purity affect environmental thought and action? How do we live well in an environment marred by pollutants? What constitutes environmental justice in a compromised world?

Series editors: Ben Iuliano, Kuhelika Ghosh, Richelle Wilson

Wilderness Has a Purity Problem

Wilderness Has a Purity Problem

What does it mean for a landscape to be pristine? Ande Peersen reflects on her love of the outdoors and her work for the U.S. Forest Service to interrogate the nature–culture divide.
A blue river surrounded by dark green shrubs and grasses on a cloudy day. Industrial buildings sit in the background.

When Wetland Restoration and Big Oil Collide

Walking through the Baytown Nature Center near Houston, Texas, Gardiner Brown traces how this wildlife sanctuary is enmeshed with the local petrochemical industry and makes a case for imperfect restoration.
Photo of a giraffe sticking out its tongue

Getting Kinky With Ecology

Developing a theory of kink ecology, Madeleine Bavley imagines a more pleasurable future for the environmental movement.
Traces of Industry in the Trees of Jefferson National Forest

Traces of Industry in the Trees of Jefferson National Forest

Chelsea Fisher follows the entangled histories of iron and paper in a second-growth forest.
A group of people in a field in front of a large piece of farm equipment

The Chemical Contract

Micaela Edelson reveals the often hidden health costs of pesticide exposure to migrant farmworkers in the United States.
Waves reaching the beach of fire island

Blurring Barriers on Fire Island

Amelia Carter maps the shifting geography and queer ecologies of a popular gay resort spot.
Numerous blue and green objects placed close together

Swimming with Trash in the Caribbean

The Caribbean is known for its pristine beaches and tourist spots, but it has increasingly become a dumping ground for the world's unmanaged garbage. Ysabel Muñoz Martínez charts how "wastescapes" are proliferating in the Anthropocene.
The Palate Politics of Eating Kangaroo

The Palate Politics of Eating Kangaroo

Kangatarianism is a growing food movement in Australia that purports to be more ethical and climate-conscious than other meat-eating practices. Sophie Chao uncovers the politics of "eating roo" in an age of climate change.

Featured image: Swirls of an oil slick in a parking lot. Photo by Arbyreed, 2011.