Elena Sobrino is a PhD candidate in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program at MIT. She uses anthropological methods and science and technology studies (STS) to study the cultural dynamics of toxicity, water, science, and racial capitalism. Her research explores environmental and economic change in the deindustrialized Great Lakes region of North America, with a focus on Flint, Michigan and the ongoing water crisis there. Her dissertation argues that the alleviation of toxic risk is tied to the elimination of policies and practices that uphold structures of inequality and racism. This ethnographic project documents how communities of organized labor, environmental justice activism, and green chemistry each offer distinct approaches to ameliorate past, present, and future toxic harm.
In 2018, MIT News published a profile of Elena’s research and work at MIT. In 2019, she was a summer fellow at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry at the New School for Social Research, and a participant in the Quotidian Anthropocene New Orleans field campus. Her dissertation fieldwork has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Before coming to MIT, Elena worked in local crisis management during the Flint water crisis from 2015 to 2016. As assistant director of information and planning with the American Red Cross, she distributed bottled water and filters, worked in volunteer intake, compiled reports and briefings, and also served as a field worker with the Centers for Disease Control as they implemented a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response study to gather information about water access and mental health in Flint households. Elena graduated with a BA in cultural anthropology and music from the University of Michigan-Flint.