New Book: Histories of the Dustheap (October 2012)

Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice
Edited by Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini

Coming October 2012 from MIT Press.

[From MIT website:] “Garbage, considered both materially and culturally, elicits mixed responses. Our responsibility toward the objects we love and then discard is entangled with our responsibility toward the systems that make those objects. Histories of the Dustheap uses garbage, waste, and refuse to investigate the relationships between various systems–the local and the global, the economic and the ecological, the historical and the contemporary–and shows how this most democratic reality produces identities, social relations, and policies.

The contributors first consider garbage in subjective terms, examining “toxic autobiography” by residents of Love Canal, the intersection of public health and women’s rights, and enviroblogging. They explore the importance of place, with studies of post-Katrina soil contamination in New Orleans, e-waste disposal in Bloomington, Indiana, and garbage on Mount Everest. And finally, they look at cultural contradictions as objects hover between waste and desirability, examining Milwaukee’s efforts to sell its sludge as fertilizer, the plastics industry’s attempt to wrap plastic bottles and bags in the mantle of freedom of choice, and the idea of obsolescence in the animated film The Brave Little Toaster.

Histories of the Dustheap offers a range of perspectives on a variety of incarnations of garbage, inviting the reader to consider garbage in a way that goes beyond the common “buy green” discourse that empowers individuals while limiting environmental activism to consumerist practices.”


1837 water colour of The Great Dust Heap at King’s Cross.

3 thoughts on “New Book: Histories of the Dustheap (October 2012)

  1. Looked so good I had already ordered it for the library too, having heard about it from from one of the contributors — Phaedra Pezzullo. Like buses these things seem to come in groups since it looks like it will come out just after ‘Economies of Recycling: The global transformation of materials, values and social relations’ edited by Catherine Alexander and Josh Reno with Zed Books ( in which in the interests of transparency I should say I have a chapter. I am waiting to see if these two will form a really good pair around the moments of movement/stilling in various types of discards.

    The publisher summary of their book says:

    ‘For some, recycling is a big business; for others a moralised way of engaging with the world. But, for many, this is a dangerous way of earning a living. With scrap now being the largest export category from the US to China, the sheer scale of this global trade has not yet been clearly identified or analysed. Combining fine-grained ethnographic analysis with overviews of international material flows, ‘Economies of Recycling’ radically changes the way we understand global and local economies as well as the new social relations and identities created by recycling processes.

    Following global material chains, this groundbreaking book reveals astonishing connections between persons, households, cities and global regions as objects are reworked, taken to pieces and traded. This timely collection debunks common linear understandings of production, exchange and consumption and argues for a complete re-evaluation of north-south economic relationships.’


    • Thanks, Mike! Looking forward to both books. Any time you want to share your work on this blog, drop me a line and we can figure something out.

  2. Pingback: The Great Dustheap | Anne Percoco

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