Monsanto Town

August 20th, 2019

Corporate personhood has rearticulated how agricultural giant Monsanto operates legally on the landscape.

By locating archival research and field work in the Village of Sauget, Illinois, this project seeks to uncover the sense of corporate personhood, while also opening up a space to consider how the Anthropocene is embodied in the everyday, vernacular activities and landscapes that exist in the sites of industry, far beyond the rhetorical partitions of theoretical, legal, and environmental debate.

For decades, the figure of Monsanto has loomed across the global Anthropocene, a confounding and monolithic presence, yet often a faceless specter responsible for impacts as various as Agent Orange, genetically modified crops, or a range of community and environmental challenges. Invoked popularly as a euphemism for the logic of acceleration characteristic of the Anthropocene, Monsanto is also one of the entities most associated with ramifications of the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission US Supreme Court ruling, establishing corporate personhood. Ironically, in the midst of acknowledged and visible environmental crisis, and during a political moment upholding the notion that “corporations are people,” Monsanto operates in an echelon with few placed, individual stories and particulars on which to grasp.

Though its impact is felt globally, the story of Monsanto is a local one. Through archival research and conversations with the community in the village of Sauget, Illinois (initially founded as the industrial suburb of Monsanto in 1926), this project seeks to create the conditions for Sauget residents to tell their side of the story about corporate personhood. Equally, it is an opening up of a space to consider how the Anthropocene is embodied within the everyday activities of the community’s people and landscape; an initial step toward building the platform that will enable the stories and histories of the Anthropocene to be heard and shared in the vernacular across both sides of the Mississippi River. The Monsanto project will culminate in a day of public conversations and a cookout with Sauget residents and their counterparts across the American Bottom.

Monsanto Town seeks to mark the gaps in these overlays through an attention to the everyday life and cultural landscapes of Sauget, as well as archival research into the labor culture at Monsanto’s facilities before public association with PCB production necessitated the change in name in 1977. By combining research with an engaged, multidisciplinary approach to fieldwork, this project will balance the historical, economic, and environmental account of the past and continuing, hazardous, present, of Monsanto Town with confounding points of dissonance and similarity present in the everyday contemporary cultural landscape of Sauget. Through activating both of these methods, this project will locate how, contrary to the popular mythos of this industrial suburb, a rich narrative of one of the epicenters of the Anthropocene can be powerfully understood through its vernacular practices, people, and places – as well as its more obvious smoke stacks and Superfund sites.