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Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme


  Rafael Barrio De Mendoza Zevallos


  Sociology, Fitzwilliam College

  PhD thesis: Documenting contamination, disputing harm. Fishermen's epistemic practices during the 2022
  Repsol La Pampilla Oil Spill, Peru


Research interests:

  1. Media Theory
  2. Political Ecology
  3. Science and Technology Studies
  4. Citizen Science


Prompted by the January 2022 La Pampilla refinery oil spill in the coastal waters of northern Lima, Peru, a group of fishing communities began to register the ongoing impact on their ecology and livelihoods. My research project seeks to document these emergent evidentiary practices, how they entail experimental epistemic politics, and in which ways they engage with canonical/official/expert accounts of the event displayed by environmental regulatory agencies, civil society organisations, legal teams, academia, media and the oil company. Particularly, I pay attention to how different devices are repurposed as sensing media and in what way private and collective digital archives articulate contentious knowledge infrastructures while advancing fishing communities' claims. In that sense, I aim to map how these collectives assemble forensic and laboratory-like repertoires with their territory's long-cultivated attunements so they can affect the techno-legal veridictions displayed to render the spill as an object of calculation and governance.

Who or what inspired you to pursue your research interests?

I'm interested in the technical and social mediation of facts, particularly those that populate environmental controversies. I find these spaces fertile for democratising, interrogating, and re-articulating expertise, as they gather different collectives and actors participating in the emergence of public truths. In times of intense digital mediation and reordering of epistemic habits, I want to document how these movements can recruit and experiment with varying sensing devices and shape verification ethics, promising, in that way, the participation of often neglected actors in the formation of public affairs in the evolving environmental regime.