Critical discard studies is an emerging interdisciplinary sub-field that takes waste and wasting, broadly defined, as its topic of study. Crucially, it is also united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste. As its starting point, critical discard studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of waste and its meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste.
This blog is meant as an online gathering place for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others whose work touches on themes relevant to the study of waste and wasting.
Discard practices involve many elements, including:
1. social customs
2. labor arrangements
3. resource stocks and flows
4. economic relationships
5. cultural norms
6. public health controversies
7. political histories
8. geographies and circulation
Attitudes about discards as objects and discarding as a practice are informed by deeply held and sometimes contradictory notions of value, worthlessness, disgust, and the boundaries of the self, as well as material factors and practical logistics.
Critical discard studies draws upon but goes beyond approaches to waste undertaken in disciplines of cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, archaeology, geography, history, and environmental studies, to name a few. A growing number of researchers from all of these disciplines are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, as a category of rejected material goods, as a mentality, as a judgment, as an infrastructural and economic challenge, as a political loci, a site for power struggles, and as a source of creativity.
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