Just Powers Podcast

Against Purity—S1E2

This episode features a ‘Read + Record’ of the introductory chapter to Alexis Shotwell’s 2016 book “Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times”. In Against Purity, Alexis Shotwell proposes a powerful new conception of social movements as custodians for the past and incubators for liberated futures. Against Purity undertakes an analysis that draws on theories of race, disability, gender, and animal ethics as a foundation for an innovative approach to the politics and ethics of responding to systemic problems today.

“In this book, I argue against purism not because I want a devastated world, the Mordor of industrial capitalism emerging as from a closely aligned alternate universe through our floating islands of plastic gradually breaking down into microbeads consumed by the scant marine life left alive after generations of overfishing, bottom scraping, and coral reef–killing ocean acidification; our human-caused, place-devastating elevated sea levels; our earth-shaking, water poisoning fracking; our toxic lakes made of the externalities of rare-earth mineral production for so-called advanced electronics; our soul-and-life destroying prisons; our oil spills; our children playing with bits of dirty bombs; our white phosphorus; our generations of trauma held in the body; our cancers; and I could go on. I argue against purism because it is one bad but common approach to devastation in all its forms. It is a common approach for anyone who attempts to meet and control a complex situation that is fundamentally outside our control. It is a bad approach because it shuts down precisely the field of possibility that might allow us to take better collective action against the destruction of the world in all its strange, delightful, impure frolic. Purism is a de-collectivizing, de-mobilizing, paradoxical politics of despair. This world deserves better.” (Shotwell, 2016, p. 8-9)

The introduction, titled “Complexity and Complicity: An Introduction to Constitutive Impurity” appears in Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times by Alexis Shotwell, and was published in 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press. This text is read by permission of the author and the publisher. You can find more information and purchase the text here.

Reference: Shotwell, Alexis. Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.