Handling the unwanted: waste as a vehicle for value creation
(University of West Bohemia)
Daniel Sosna (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the effects of neoliberalism on manipulation with things. Based on ethnography and analysis of waste we reveal the construction of value via the relationship to materiality, action, and semiosis.
Paper long abstract:
Since 1989 post-socialist societies have passed through significant changes that shaped manipulation with things including domestic refuse. Waste represents a sphere where the effects of neoliberalism can be traced along the line of value creation. Value is constructed through the relationship to materiality, action, and semiosis. We take advantage of both ethnography and analysis of household waste in a rural milieu in the Czech Republic to examine the relationship between humans and things. Our research reveals that certain things never become part of solid waste while other things indicate various ways actors engage with things. Plastic bottles and bags reflect the potential of being recycled whereas other kinds of plastics are disposed to solid waste. Recycling of old clothing by donation to Charity or renewing army equipment suggests that value of things may be hidden in actors´ action. Finally, value emerges through the creation and modification of meaning derived from signs. This includes special terminology and labeling of categories of the classification system. Through identification of interconnections among the three levels, we aspire to reveal contemporary construction of value and juxtapose it with the situation before the onset of neoliberalism in Eastern Europe.
Re-embedding the market economy: innovation, legacy, and techniques of intimate sociality after socialism