Molecular Dreamworlds: A Cultural History of Chemical Entanglement, 1945-1995

Year of award: 2023


  • Dr James Reath

    University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Project summary

Responding to a recent “cultural wave” in the medical humanities calling for more creative responses to the “more than biomedical” cultural forces shaping human and environmental wellbeing, and extending the social science’s ongoing “chemical turn” into the arts and humanities, Molecular Dreamworlds: A Cultural History of Chemical Entanglement, 1945-1995 investigates the complex agentic capacities of four everyday synthetic materials—Paraquat, Lurex, Teflon, and AZT—through a multidisciplinary approach that utilises ethnographic studies, field trips, archival research, and various modes of close reading and cultural analysis.

Foregrounding the complex agencies of synthetic chemicals through a multitude of voices—from farmers and sculptors; nurses and poets; toxicologists, IP lawyers, and avant-garde filmmakers—Molecular Dreamworlds brings a series of semi-structured interviews into dialogue with a remarkable archive of overlooked plays, novels, poems, and paintings pertaining to the post-modern period so as to help medical humanities scholars better understand the cultural forces shaping public and planetary wellbeing in the mid-to-late twentieth century.

Expanding orthodox victim-exposure paradigms framing health-related research while rejuvenating a fledgling field of post-modernist studies, Molecular Dreamworlds promises a timely and epistemologically grounded investigation into post-modernism's chemical infrastructures that will be of lasting relevance to scholars across the arts and sciences.