HomeFrom silicosis to silica hazards: an experiment in medicine, history and the social sciences

HomeFrom silicosis to silica hazards: an experiment in medicine, history and the social sciences

*  *  *

Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013


What are the biases inherited from the constitution of medical knowledge? How does returning to the root of “scientific truth” open new avenues to contemporary research? The present colloquium is an unprecedented interdisciplinary experiment whereby medical experts, epidemiologists and historians will question the very foundations of current medical knowledge of silica hazards, in order to discuss the unknown origin of a range of systemic diseases.



Silicosis decimated tens of thousands of miners and other workers in industrialised countries throughout the 20th century and is now rampant in emerging countries. The official medical definition of the disease was reached in 1930 at an international conference in Johannesburg, organized with the ILO. The consequences of this pivotal moment have reverberated down the decades, and eighty-three years later are still hampering medical research.

Economic factors played a major role in the 1930 conference. The forum deliberately excluded from its frame of reference the analysis of certain modes of exposure to risk, of certain dangerous professional activities or environments, thereby neglecting a wide range of pathologies. To this day, the origin of a number of these pathologies remains disputed, but epidemiological results point to crystalline silica – the most common mineral component of the earth’s crust – as a possible causal factor.

Researchers are increasingly taking an interest in these diseases, which are based on inflammatory processes and trigger systemic perturbations that are notoriously difficult to treat. This colloquium will contribute to this interrogation by bringing together different fields of research. It will return to the roots of our medical knowledge of silicosis in order to nourish contemporary medical research; and will use current medical issues to critically re-examine the historical sources.

This unprecedented interdisciplinary experiment will see medical experts, epidemiologists and historians unite with sociologists, biologists and physicists to rethink inherited diagnostic categories and question the very foundations of current medical knowledge of silica hazards.


Tuesday 24 September 2013

9-9.30am: Welcome

9.30am-12.30pm: CEVIPOF, salle Georges Lavau, 98 rue de l’Université, 75007 Paris

Session 1 – Silica hazards: historical and medical relevance

Chair: Emily Spieler (Northeastern University & MIT)

  • David Rosner (Columbia University) & Gerald Markowitz (City University of New York), Silicosis: The Paradigmatic Disease of Modern Society
  • Paul-André Rosental (Sciences Po & INED) & the Silicosis team, Contextualising the international recognition of 'silicosis' in the 1930s to measure the effects of silica in the world today. A medical-historical cross-analysis
  • Keith Breckenridge (University of Witwatersrand), Silicosis and the limits of colonial progressivism: a discussion paper

12.30-2pm: Lunch break

2-5pm: Salle Georges Lavau

Session 2 – Observations and measures: deconstructing and reconstructing knowledge

Chair: Jean-Pierre Grignet (Centre hospitalier de Denain)

  • Catherine Cavalin (Sciences Po & Centre d’études de l’emploi), The International Conference on Silicosis, Johannesburg, 1930 – 'Tables' of Occupational Diseases, France, 2013: A Joint Reading
  • Jean-François Sauvé (Université de Montréal), Then and now: historical and emerging workplaces affected by silica exposure
  • Jean-François Bernaudin (Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6 & AP-HP - Hôpital Tenon Paris), Pathological aspects of silicosis in the records of the 1930 international conference held at Johannesburg

Wednesday 25 September 2013

9am-1pm: Salle Georges Lavau

Session 3 - Dusts and tissue: 1930-2013 and back

Chair: Philippe Camus (Centre hospitalier universitaire de Dijon)

  • Michel Vincent (Centre hospitalier St Joseph-St Luc, Lyon & Sciences Po), The 1930 Johannesburg conference revisited: the view from 2013
  • Paul Blanc (University of California San Francisco), 'Acute' Silicosis in the 1930 Johannesburg Conference and its Aftermath
  • Cécile Chemarin & Mickaël Catinon (Laboratoire de minéralopathologie du Centre hospitalier St Joseph-St Luc, Lyon), The Johannesburg Conference revisited in 2013 from the point of view of materials science
  • Marianne Kambouchner (Centre hospitalier universitaire Avicenne, Bobigny), Major pathologic aspects of usual pneumoconioses

Discussion: Isabella Annesi-Maesano (INSERM), Françoise Thivolet-Bejui (Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hôpital Louis Pradel) & Jocelyne Fleury (AP-HP - Hôpital Tenon Paris)

1-2pm: Lunch break

2-5.30pm: Salle Georges Lavau

Session 4 – The Ghosts of Silicosis Past: reverberations of the 1930 conference

Chair: Mathias Girel (École Normale Supérieure-Ulm)

  • Francesco Carnevale (Azienda Sanitaria di Firenze & Università di Firenze), Characteristics, meanings, background and consequences of the 1930 Johannesburg Conference including the role played by the ILO and in particular by Luigi Carozzi
  • Arthur McIvor (University of Strathclyde): [To be confirmed], Miners and silica: the binational interplay between South Africa and the United Kingdom
  • Eric Geerkens (University of Liège), After-Care: from Johannesburg 1930 to the Sixties in Western Coalfield Societies

Discussion of presentations, followed by general discussion, including perspectives for publication

6-7.30pm: Salle 404 (4th floor), 56 rue des Saints-Pères, 75007 Paris

Keynote speech - Silicosis Elimination: Opportunities and Illusions

Gregory Wagner, Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH/CDC, Wahington D.C.) & Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health

7.30-8.15pm: Salle Goguel (5th floor), 56 rue des Saints-Pères, 75007 Paris

  • A miner’s song


  • Sciences Po, salles 404 (4th floor) and Goguel (5th floor) - 56 rue des Saints-Pères
    Paris, France (75007)


  • Tuesday, September 24, 2013
  • Wednesday, September 25, 2013


  • Silicosis, silica, occupational and environmental health, social welfare, job hazards


  • Mchugh Dillon Harriet
    courriel : harriet [dot] mchughdillon [at] sciencespo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Rio Katia
    courriel : katia [dot] rio [at] sciencespo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« From silicosis to silica hazards: an experiment in medicine, history and the social sciences », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013, https://calenda.org/259798

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search