Review: Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes

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Review: Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes By Barbara L. Allen Reviewed by Tom Fletcher Bishop's University, Quebec, Canada Barbara L. Allen. Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 224 pp. ISBN 0-262-01203-0 (cloth); 0-262-51134-7 (paper). US$55.00 cloth; US$22.00 paper.

Having grown up in south Louisiana and gone on to specialize in the politics of environmental justice and hazardous waste, it was for me a real pleasure to read Barbara Allen's remarkable book. Like her, I also have childhood memories of "malathion and magnolias" that have no doubt formed the basis for my own impressions of the chemical economy and its relationship to race, class and the environment. Uneasy Alchemy is more than a serious, scholarly work, which it is; Allen's writing is also clear, approachable and tells a fascinating story that is filled with insightful observations as she interprets the contradictory landscape of that part of the world. For her, it is a "strange juxtaposition of important architectural artifacts and historic rural communities with ominously futuristic techno-cities of stacks and tanks, lights and towers" (p. xiii).

The book begins with numerous layers of context, each of which is necessary to understand the complexities of environmental injustice. Most fundamentally, Allen explains the historical geography of the area as a way of understanding contemporary political economy and social relations that are somewhat unique in the American context. The 18th century Acadian settlements and the prevalence of property ownership among blacks, even during the antebellum period, are two of the more important distinctions that she elaborates along with the typically Southern injustices associated with the feudal society that formed the plantation economy and, of course, slavery. Moreover, while the postbellum period witnessed the freedom of slaves, it also brought various forms of external control over black property ownership. This continued during the 20th century when transnational petrochemical companies began to purchase former plantations. …