More than Skin Deep: Situated Communities and the Case of Agent Orange in Viet Nam,”

Nancy McHugh
Wittenberg University
I build upon feminist arguments for situated knowledge and pragmatist arguments for experimental inquiry to articulate and argue for an approach that I refer to as situated communities. This approach seeks to generate effective and ethical scientific research practices by asking that researchers focus on communities in their complex environment as subjects of study instead of relying primarily on clinical trials and laboratory research. Communities should be recognized as situated epistemic agents and as changing, evolving centers of life. Doing so requires that these communities are understood in their materiality through bodies that are aged, gendered, abled/disabled, raced, classed, colonized, bordered, materially advantaged and disadvantaged, engaged in particular daily practices within a complex environment. To illustrate my argument I analyze the effects of Agent Orange on communities in the Aluoi Valley, Vietnam and the accompanying research on Agent Orange. I argue that when studied through the situated communities approach instead of in the isolation of the laboratory, it becomes much more obvious why Agent Orange can cause the congenital anomalies, cancers, and other diseases the Vietnamese claim it does. I focus especially on women in this region because they carry the largest social burden of the effects of Agent Orange due to their role in agriculture, housework, childbearing, breastfeeding, and caring for children and adults affected by Agent Orange.
Keywords Pragmatism  Situated Knowledges  Communities  Agent Orange  Dioxin
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