Life after waste

Richard Vokes (University of Western Australia)
Joanne Thurman (Australian National University)
Chancellery Building, A1-017
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel invites ethnographic papers on the living worlds of waste. Instead of a mere by-product of human life, we ask for analyses of waste as enduring and generative. As forms of (bio)matter, products of cultural meaning, or social practices and relations, there is always life after waste.

Long abstract:

It is easy for us to think of rubbish, waste and pollution as inextricably associated with death. After all, we discard things only once their utility has (in our minds) 'expired'; we generate waste as a by-product of our everyday routines of living (especially eating + defecating); and we are all implicated in the production of pollution that we know is killing the biosphere. Yet what is required - and what is at stake - for us to shift our perspectives, and to see rubbish, waste and pollution as instead living forms? Do we need to simply reframe our categories, so that discards are no longer cast as 'matter out of place' (a la Mary Douglas)? Or do we instead need to adopt a non-representational position, in which we recast waste products not just as matter onto which humans project meaning, but instead as a particular kind of material trace: one that is produced by all living things - both human and non-human (a move that Joshua Reno has recently implored us to make)? And either way, do we need to be more attentive to the ways in which rubbish, waste, and pollution frequently generate new forms of social and bio-social life - from new livelihoods in the refuse industries; to new kinds of 'wastelands' (such as that of Agbogbloshie, Ghana); to entirely new bio-social entities (e.g. 'fatbergs')? This panel invites ethnographically informed papers that explore the living worlds of waste.