CFP: Fixing the world: Excess, Leftover and Innovation

Prospective contributors to a special issue of the journal Techniques & culture ( entitled ‘Fixing the world. Excess, Leftover and Innovation‘ are invited to submit article abstracts before 30 June 2014.



Remainders and the way they are dealt with are a productive social sciences heuristic. Or so we argue in this special issue, published in partnership with Marseille’s ‘Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée‘ (MuCEM), where an exhibition on waste is being prepared for 2016. Incorporating the subject of waste but casting a much wider net, this special issue will gather together contributions, from multiple disciplines and fieldsites, around the topic of ‘remainders,’ conceived of not only as ‘obverse of production’ but also in their crucial semiotic and symbolic dimensions.

‘Remainders’ are understood here in a the broad sense, as artefacts of thought or practice, generally invisible and often ‘outside of culture.’ Remainders are things that remain ‘unthought,’ that do not enter into cultural and cognitive frameworks, be they symbolic or economic. Materially and conceptually, remainder(s), or surpluses, leftovers, byproducts, are entry points for examining a series of imbricated social, environmental, and political issues.

We invite contributions exploring, supplementing, and challenging notions/categories of ‘remainders,’ in the broadest sense (including but not limited to waste), notably the following:

  • ‘Irreducible’ remainders. The most extreme example of remainders qua elements that resist erosion and biodegradation is probably nuclear waste, but other such insistent externalities include suspended residues/particles such as those that result in atmospheric pollution, or the polymers that, carried by ocean currents and the wind, form gyres in the seas and oceans.
  • ‘Reused’ leftovers and byproducts. Not all objects that fade into the background of social life become waste. This transition often marks the beginning of the social ‘after-life’ of things. By what processes are objects salvaged? In what places, moments, and organizational configurations do waste objects circulate, are they exchanged and transformed? By what modalities do leftover objects continue existing (re-use) or exist anew (recycling), and what are the social implications of these renewals?
  • ‘Salvaged’ wastes. What are flows and components, the contours and value chains of actors who glean secondary raw material deposits, on both industrial (extractive industries exploring new forms of ‘urban mining’) and artisanal (the ‘informal’ economy on the margins of large metropolises disassembling and salvaging things like old electric appliances and electronics) scales?
  • ‘Ghostly’ remains. Not only material objects (including human remains such as the corpse and bones) but also ghosts, spirits, demons and Jinn are the haunt(ed/ing) ruins of a past that, though it gets further and further away, the present never entirely succeeds in detaching itself from. According to Freud the ‘worrying strangeness’ of these ‘familiar demons’ (Das Unheimliche/the uncanny) both attracts and repels us.
  • ‘Excesses’ and ‘surpluses’. Practices of ostentatious consumption give contemporary society a strange likeness to the potlach ceremony (where prestige is associated not with production but destruction, flowing to the person who throws the most away). Do the (anti)-economic practices of loss and destruction rather than profit and accumulation—festival, sacrifice, luxury, gambling, the market, etc—invite different ways of conceiving of value relations between the material and the immaterial?

What challenges do these categories of remainders pose at a time when certain social science researchers are taking up the notion of Anthropocene (that the present ‘era’ is characterized by human beings having become the predominant force impacting the planet’s evolution)? What are the consequences for economic anthropology (of which one of the founding texts is Marcel Mauss’s Essay on the Gift) to traffic in objects without the idea of exchange, circulation, or return? Conversely, to what extent do circulatory economies reincorporate remainders in unexpected ways? Does the study of remainders, or what Georges Bataille called the ‘accursed share,’ allow, as he promised, for turning our way of thinking ‘upside down’ by broadening our current ‘restricted economy’ to a ‘general economy’?

Remainders cannot be conceived of as ontologically given, but must rather be thought of as belonging to a category the contours of which expand, contract, and deconstruct themselves depending on the value regimes, techniques, and beliefs of each society, as well as through activities such as elimination, collection, repair, transformation, re-valuation, preservation. Similarly, the notion of remainder has different material and immaterial meanings: should hunter-gatherer or horticultural societies be regarded as being ‘remainderless’ (or at least without waste?). Or do remainders, cinders, excreta take other (immaterial?) forms in a humid tropical environment characterized by the biodegradability of plant matter, a context that is clearly very different from one dominated by metal or plastic artefacts of industrial societies.

Apart from the material forms of remainders, the processes or transformations by which they change status are of particular importance for the collective reflection we seek to develop through this special issue. We are particularly keen on studies that reveal forms of innovation, knowledge, savoir-faire, bricolage, and ways-of-being that the accelerated world of consumption and overproduction produces as rebound and resistance effects, in particular against planned obsolescence.

Reflecting Techniques & culture‘sstand in favour of engaged, and at times angry and defiant anthropology, this special issue aims to translate into the scholarly realm the ‘models of doing’ of the excluded.

Jamie Furniss, Yann-Philippe Tastevin (University of Edinburgh, Centre Norbert Elias-Mucem) in collaboration with Agnès Jeanjean (University of Nice) and Frédéric Joulian (EHESS)


Article proposals should be in the form of a 2,000-4,000 character abstract, accompanied by up to ten illustrations.

Final submissions may be in one of three different formats:

  • An article appearing online, of between 30,000 and 80,000 characters (including spaces) and in which all forms of audio and visual illustrations (photos, video, sound recordings) are accepted. A two-page summary of such articles will be appear in the print version of the journal, with the URL link.
  • An article appearing in print, of between 10,000 and 20,000 characters (including spaces), accompanied by a maximum of 10 High Definition images. Authors of these articles should seek to address themselves to readers outside their own field in a manner that is at once rigorously scientific and accessible to the journal’s broad readership, which goes beyond a pluri/inter-disciplinary range of social scientists, to include a High Street bookshop audience.
  • An article based on fieldwork and documents in which the author analyzes a specific example or idea through 15-20 images and a text not exceeding 10,000 characters (including spaces).

For editorial norms, please consult or contact the editorial team.

Editorial team contact: techniques&



  •     Abstracts due: 30 June 2014
  •     Selection of articles and reply to authors: 15 July 2014
  •     Full abstract & article: 15 October 2014
  •     Contributors meet for colloquium at MuCEM (Marseille): 20-21 November 2014


Techniques & culture

The journal Techniques & culture is devoted to the pragmatic, social and symbolic dimensions of techniques, from the most ‘traditional’ to the most modern. Material culture and materiality as we approach them allow for revealing and giving concrete meanings to the relationships between human beings, as well as between them and their environment. The journal publishes thematic issues, the ambition of which is to be syntheses of the most recent and important anthropological questions. These are aimed at both a scholarly audience (as a high-ranking academic journal) and the broader public (by making it available in High Street bookstores and over the internet).


Practical details

Authors should contact the editor-coordinators of the issue, Yann-Philippe Tastevin and Jamie Furniss, via the journal’s editorial team (techniques& in order to submit their abstract along with their name, address, and institutional affiliation before the 30th of June 2014.

A meeting of all contributors is planned prior to publication, at the MuCEM in Marseille in November 2014.

Abstracts as well as final articles may be submitted in French or English. The issue will be published in French, with translation into French of any English texts being the arranged by the journal’s editorial team.


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