Capitalism and Socio-Spatial Dialectics of ‘Waste’

Antipode, A Radical Journal of Geography, has just published a special three-article section on the Socio-spatial dialectics of “waste.” The articles follow a Marxist analytical framework and are nestled in a larger discussion of humans and/as “surplus.” Readers will find that authors are not experts of waste and its materialities, stocks and flows, but are using the ethics of wastefulness and the othering of waste as a trope to critique a larger socio-economic system that designates value, broadly speaking.

The Afterlives of “Waste”: Notes from India for a Minor History of Capitalist Surplus (pages 1625–1658)
Vinay Gidwani and Rajyashree N. ReddyWe contend that “waste” is the political other of capitalist “value”, repeated with difference as part of capital’s spatial histories of surplus accumulation. We trace its work on India through a series of historical cuts, and suggest that the travels and perils of waste give us a “minor” history of capitalist surplus—the things, places and lives that are cast outside the pale of “value” at particular moments as superfluity, excess, or detritus; only to return at times in unexpected ways. The neologism “eviscerating urbanism” becomes our diagnostic tool to investigate both urban transformations in metropolitan India and their associated architectures for managing bodies and spaces designated as “wasteful”. In sum, our essay reveals how “waste” begins as civil society’s literal and figurative frontier only to become its internal and mobile limit in the contemporary era—a renewing source of jeopardy to urban life and economy, but also, in the banal violence and ironies of fin de millennium urbanism, a fiercely contested frontier of surplus value production.
A Species of Thought: Bare Life and Animal Being (pages 1659–1678)
Laura HudsonDiscussions of animal rights tend to naturalize rights discourse, while discussions of animal philosophy tend to naturalize self/other relationships. This paper argues that neither provide an adequate critique of the system of capitalism that shapes both. As ever-larger portions of the globe are subject to intensified capitalist exploitation and industrialization, labor becomes increasingly superfluous to the processes of production, leaving millions of human beings to live like animals outside of the space of production even as billions of animals are increasingly granted some measure of rights due to their place within production. Both the desire to define our relationship to other animals in the discourse of animal rights and the tendency to naturalize exploitation, sacrifice and sovereignty in poststructural philosophy are two sides of the same capitalist coin. Finally, this paper suggests that addressing the problems of dehumanization and the waste of human lives might require forming new ideas and new practices regarding our relationships with other animals.
The Human-As-Waste, the Labor Theory of Value and Disposability in Contemporary Capitalism (pages 1679–1695)
Michelle YatesThis paper takes issue with various theoretical perspectives that examine waste within the context of consumption, distribution, or excretion, yet fail to address capitalism as a totalizing mode of production. In failing to do this, these theories are not able to make the conceptual leap to the human-as-waste. By contrast, this paper engages in a production-level theoretical standpoint and argues that capitalism, in its reduction of labor to a factor of production, speaks a logic of human disposability. On the one hand, the body of the laborer is used up or wasted at accelerated rates so as to secure the most profit. On the other hand, the exigencies of capitalist profit-making may lead to this factor of production being excreted (as a form of waste) into unemployment or underemployment, creating surplus populations that are separated partially or fully from domains of capitalist exchange and social life. This rethinking of labor as a factor that is expended or excreted allows for a re-examination of both waste and capitalism, and points toward the natural and historical limits of the capitalist mode of production.