SOAS Anthropology Department Seminar - Noemi Tousignant

Key information

3:15 pm to 5:00 pm
Brunei Gallery SOAS
Room B103, Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ
Event type
Seminar series

About this event

The SOAS Anthropology Department welcomes Dr Noemi Tousignant for her talk Endemic residues of peanut extraction in Senegal.

Aflatoxins are metabolites of fungal strains that grow on agricultural crops. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, aflatoxins were confirmed as potent carcinogens that interact synergistically with hepatitis B infection as risk factors for liver cancer. Senegalese peanuts – a major national export and food source – have consistently been found to contain high levels of aflatoxin.

Rates of hepatitis B infection and of liver cancer in Senegal are also among the highest in the world. In this talk, I want to reconsider endemicity as the lens through which aflatoxin’s presence and toxicity in Senegalese soil, crops and bodies has usually been understood. As endemic substances, these chemicals are cast as natural and largely inevitable products of fungal metabolisms and their tropical habitats.

At the same time, aflatoxins have been regulated, in the former metropoles that orchestrated the mass colonial cultivation of peanuts as export cash crops, as mobile substances with stable toxic properties. I instead mobilize endemicity as a frame to highlight the situatedness of relations – among fungi, viruses, soil, persons who farm and who eat peanuts – that render aflatoxins carcinogenic in Senegal, thereby shifting the focus from toxic substances to situations of toxicity, which call not only for chemical but also for ecological and ethnographic attention.

Moreover, I argue that Senegal’s peanut economy has been historically configured by (post)colonial relations and exchange, in ways that not only foster aflatoxin’s formation but also hinder its knowability and management as a situated and relational entity, thereby entrenching its endemic toxicity. Endemicity, I conclude, can therefore help us rethink distinctions between located and mobile, natural and synthetic, as well as chemical and viral toxicities.

It also invites reflection on how imperialism and industrialization transformed its “peripheries,” rendering them carcinogenic other than through chemical exports, drifts and dumping.

About the speaker

Noemi Tousignant is an Associate Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL. Her research examines how scientific research and innovation address and (re)produce global inequalities in health, with a focus on West Africa. Her first book is Edges of Exposure (Duke, 2018).

We would like to invite attendees to join us at the IoE bar for drinks after the event to continue the conversation.


If you have any questions, please contact Alice Rudge (

Image Credit: / Bibliothèque nationale de France. Jean Stirbo, "Group of workers sorting peanuts at the Bambey experimental station in Senegal, 1929.