PlasticTales - Plastic Agents

Fisher T., Tonuk D.

EASE 2020, Lisbon, Portugal, 21 - 24 July 2020, pp.90

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Lisbon
  • Country: Portugal
  • Page Numbers: pp.90
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


This study traces paradoxical stories of plastics as they get made and disposed of, drawing from the diverse connotations of their origins in matter that may be 'pure' or 'polluting'. These tales of 'plastic' transformations tell of materials that may be made from petroleum, black tar, or from milk, the white biotic source of life. They resist and accumulate but also decay and assimilate when made into various products, their material disintegrations being tales in themselves. The paper thinks plastics through a tale of origins, extending its discussion to the milk protein that is the source of casein plastic, showing that milk too is equally material and social, in its historical transformation from animal material to human food, and in the values and practices cohering round its decay. These 'plastic' tales, describe the entanglements of material and social forms, the transformation of matter with symmetrically unexpected reverberations in the social realm and vice versa. We explore the making of 'plastic' out of milk, by tracking milk plastics - trademarked variously as Casein, Erinoid, Lanital - through their material, cultural and social histories in milk - how different ideas about hygiene, bacteria, naturalness, and technology simultaneously transformed both milk, and milk plastics, as well as daily lives, through the consumption items they are made into, carrying this history to present day reincarnations of casein in bioplastics. To describe these entanglements of material and social forms, reflecting on the agentic capacities of non-humans in general we propose the term 'plastic agency'.