Call for short papers: The Discard Studies Handybook

The Discard Studies Handybook.
Max Liboiron, Robin Nagle, and Michele Acuto, eds.


Through waste, we can see the world. Our practices, beliefs, rituals, and emotions around discarding shape our everyday actions. Municipal and industrial waste organizes people and work along lines of class, race, gender, age, and geography, making imbedded cultural norms and assumptions manifest. Trash, waste, and discards have environmental impacts; cultural and social ramifications; and define and are defined by economic and governance systems. Waste is both familiar and pervasive, but is also largely “black-boxed” out of sight, silently flowing into, out of, and between households, neighbourhoods, cities, countries, and economies.

In recognition of the centrality of waste and wasting, several scholars have sought, as O’Brien (2008) put it, to “recuperate waste from the intellectual dustbin to which it is all too readily consigned in social thought.” In the past few years there has been both a resurgence of a multiplicity of approaches to studying waste as well as a progressive interest in the potential of waste to build interdisciplinary bridges of direct relevance to key questions of our time. What are the tensions and insights between the cultural and material manifestations of waste and wasting? How can waste contribute to formalise and further multidisciplinary connections grounded in everyday problems of justice, action, and change? How can it help us make sense of the intricate material and political geographies brought about by urbanisation and demographic trends that are refining global geographies? How can recent developments in these studies help us move beyond pre-political and linear views of ‘waste flows’ and the twin material/discursive mobility of garbage? How can waste chart stronger links between systemic processes and everyday materialities?

The Discard Studies Handybook seeks to showcase the state of the art and range of academic inquiry into waste. It will illustrate how various debates on waste and wasting can generate critical knowledge about the connections and dissociations of social theory, material problems, and public engagement. Developed through an innovative two-step format, the Handybook will be published on the Discard Studies blog, which both includes and reaches beyond scholarly audiences, and then in paperback. The online version of the Handybook, composed of short 600-800 word contributions, seeks to map the contemporary scholarship on waste while also offering expert insights on central concepts, theories, methods and socio-political challenges. An invited selection of these entries will then be collaboratively expanded by participating authors in a more comprehensive 1,500-2,000-word format for the paperback/ebook version. This format allows open and fair access to the contents of the Handybook for the wider public via the Discard Studies blog, as well as more in-depth scholarly inquiry into key theoretical, methodological and normative challenges via the paperback publication.

cropped-dsc00316.jpgInstructions for authors:

The Discard Studies Handybook is intended for or a wide and engaged audience: please write in an accessible style, minimizing jargon, quotations and endnotes. Where possible, we encourage essays to engage with empirical material rather than with solely theoretical concerns.

Essays are to be framed in relation to one of three sections of the Handybook:

CONCEPTS IN PLACE – This section of the Handybook aims to develop a critical consciousness around commonly used topics and terms in discard studies.  Contributions here focus on highlighting and discussing how various facets of discard studies are intertwined with broader social, economic, historic, political questions. While scholars use terms such as “landfill”, “commons”, “dirt”, “wastefulness” and “consumption”, what are the premises, underpinnings, popular mythologies, histories, and politics of such terms? How are such terms interested in and/or leveraged for certain aims?

THEORIES & METHODS – Contributions to this part of the Handybook present a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives that have been deployed to study waste in its many forms and meanings. ‘Methods’ essays illustrate approaches from anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, geography, political science, material analysis, environmental science, and many other disciplinary stances, presenting the multidisciplinarity of discard studies. Chapters in this part focus, for instance, on garbology, rubbish theory, actor-network theory, lifecycle analysis, environmental justice, political ecology, epidemiology, citizen science, landscape studies, social movement studies, urban and regional planning, participatory action research, praxis, materials flow analysis, organizational dynamics, and more.

CHALLENGES – This last part of the Handybook considers the interconnection between scholarly analysis and the many socio-political challenges of waste. Researching garbage confronts us with disciplinary limits, pervasive social questions sometimes thought to be beyond the purview of academia, and concomitant demands for scholarly reflexivity. Essays in this section draw on themes emerging within discard studies to connect this eclectic field with broader societal practices like public policy, advocacy, interdisciplinary work, ethics, and economics.

Please submit a maximum 200-word abstract indicating your topic of interest and its general outline. Send to and

Note all images must be copyright of author, creative commons, copy left, or part of the commons.

Abstracts: August 31, 2013 (200 words).
First drafts: October 5, 2013 (600-800 words).
Full chapters: due date TBA (1,500 to 2,000 words).

The Editors:

Max Liboiron is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University.

Michele Acuto is Stephen Barter Fellow in the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) at the University of Oxford.

Robin Nagle is a professor at New York University, anthropologist-in-residence with the Department of Sanitation in New York City, and author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).


3 thoughts on “Call for short papers: The Discard Studies Handybook

  1. Hello Max, I’m writing about the call for contributions to the Handybook. It seems the link is not working (for me and an overseas colleague at least) — is the call still relevant? Thanks, Talia Fried Bar Ilan University Graduate Program in Science, Technology & Society Ramat Gan, Israel

    • Hi, Talia.
      The call has been removed and delayed while we see about getting another editor on board. It will be reposted with new submission dates this summer sometime.

  2. Pingback: Call for Short Papers – Discard Studies Handybook | Cassandra E. Kuyvenhoven

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