Accepted paper:

Scaling Wastewater: Fluidity of Toxic Encounters in the Anthropocene


Daniel Sosna (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on wastewater at Czech landfills to interrogate the concept of scale and practice of scaling. Zooming in and out will reveal changing relations among humans and non-humans, ethical dimension of scaling, and its potential limits.

Paper long abstract:

Water is a great vehicle for scalar analyses because of its capacity to flow, transform itself, and get through various barriers and limits. What kind of scalar journey emerges when one decides to follow the water? I will follow the wastewater born in the body of the landfill from the rain, snow, and decay. Such water flows through the tubes into cisterns, gets sprayed back to landfill's surface in a never-ending cycle, nourishes various organisms thriving at landfills, and has to be transported out to be neutralized, and eventually leaks to cause troubles with ethical and political consequences. In this paper, I will use my ethnographic research among the actors associated with the disposal of the municipal solid waste in the Czech Republic to interrogate the concept of scale and practice of scaling. Building upon Hecht's (2018) interest in waste as a vehicle for scalar journeys, I will use wastewater as a tool that facilitates movement between different scalar registers. It offers an opportunity to trace how humans, materials, and non-human organisms relate to each other. Zooming in and out along the scales reveals not only different kinds of the relationships but also ethical consequences of scaling that become sensitive because of wastewater's capacity to threaten and harm. While paying attention to the potential of scaling to generate new knowledge I will also explore the other side of the coin where scaling might reduce existing relations into apprehensible 'chunks' and, perhaps, simplify the complexity of relations.

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(Re)scaling the Anthropocene