Environmental Right-To-Know and the Transmutations of Law

PDF Document

It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. Download adobe Acrobat or click here to download the PDF file.


All rights reserved.


Contributed date

April 9, 2021 - 8:08am

Critical Commentary

Law does more than codify, regulate, and control; it also catalyzes and transmutes, provoking cascading social and cultural effects, particularly when the force of law is informational. Consider the case of Diane Wilson, mother of five, fourth-generation shrimp boat captain in Calhoun County on the Texas Gulf Coast. In 1989, she was forty years old, had more than enough to do, and had more than enough to worry about. Shrimping had never been an easy way to make a living, but it was getting harder. The catch was down and game warden surveillance was up, and there was a brown algae creeping across the surface of San Antonio Bay. The fish suffocated and the shrimpers went further into debt. Environmental regulations were not a shrimper's friend, however. Indeed, a fair amount of energy and creativity went in to efforts to avoid game warden surveillance. Local fish houses where the catch was held for sale had subtle systems for alerting shrimpers if wardens were lingering on the docks or were parked around the corner. Environmental regulations directed at local industry did not have many supporters either. The local chemical industry was the place to work if you really wanted to earn money. Union Carbide had a plant in Calhoun County, as did DuPont, BP, Alcoa, and Formosa Plastics.


Fortun, K. 2009. Environmental Right-To-Know and the Transmutations of Law. In Catastrophe: Law, Politics and the Humanitarian Impulse, edited by Austin Sarat. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Cite as

Kim Fortun, "Environmental Right-To-Know and the Transmutations of Law", contributed by James Adams, Tim Schütz and Mariana Arjona Soberón, Project: Formosa Plastics Global Archive, Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 6 February 2022, accessed 13 August 2022. http://www.disaster-sts-network.org/content/environmental-right-know-and-transmutations-law