Article Alert! New articles and books in Discard Studies

Since discard studies doesn’t have it’s own journal, conference, or department, Discard Studies publishes a regular table of contents alerts for articles, reports, and books from all over the English-speaking world. There are the most recent publications in the field:

Baka, J. (2016). Making space for energy: wasteland development, enclosures, and energy dispossessions. Antipode.
This paper analyzes why and how wasteland development narratives persist through an evaluation of wasteland development policies in India from 1970 to present. Integrating critical scholarship on environmental narratives and enclosures, I find that narratives of wastelands as “empty” spaces available for “improvement” continue because they are metaphors for entrenched struggles between the government’s shifting visions of “improvement” and communities whose land use practices contradict these logics. Since the 1970s, “improvement” has meant establishing different types of tree plantations on wastelands to ostensibly provide energy security. These projects have dispossessed land users by enclosing common property lands and by providing forms of energy incommensurate with local needs, a trend I term “energy dispossessions”. Factors enabling energy dispossessions include the government’s increased attempts to establish public–private partnerships to carry out “improvement” and a “field of observation” constructed to obscure local livelihoods. Unveiling these logics will help to problematize and contest future iterations of wasteland development.

9780262034340.jpgBell, S. E. (2016). Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia. Mit Press.
In the coal-mining region of Central Appalachia, mountaintop-removal mining and coal-industry-related flooding, water contamination, and illness have led to the emergence of a grassroots, women-driven environmental justice movement. But the number of local activists is small relative to the affected population, and recruiting movement participants from within the region is an ongoing challenge.
In Fighting King Coal, Shannon Elizabeth Bell examines an understudied puzzle within social movement theory: why so few of the many people who suffer from industry-produced environmental hazards and pollution rise up to participate in social movements aimed at bringing about social justice and industry accountability. Using the coal-mining region of Central Appalachia as a case study, Bell investigates the challenges of micromobilization through in-depth interviews, participant observation, content analysis, geospatial viewshed analysis, and an eight-month “Photovoice” project—an innovative means of studying, in real time, the social dynamics affecting activist involvement in the region. Although the Photovoice participants took striking photographs and wrote movingly about the environmental destruction caused by coal production, only a few became activists. Bell reveals the importance of local identities to the success or failure of local recruitment efforts in social movement struggles, ultimately arguing that, if the local identities of environmental justice movements are lost, the movements may also lose their power.

Bolton, M., Froese, S., Jeffery, A. (2016). ““Go get a job right after you take a bath”: Occupy Wall Street as Matter Out of Place,” Antipode DOI: 10.1111/anti.12226
Anthropological studies of purity reveal how notions of cleanliness influence political and social life. During its 2011 Zuccotti Park occupation in Lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) contested spatial and symbolic manifestations of neoliberalism by re-inserting Otherness into sanitized and privatized space. But the demonstration provoked reactions from politicians and news media that entwined discourses of cleanliness and productivity (such as Newt Gingrich’s riposte to the protestors: “Go get a job right after you take a bath”). This ethnographic study argues that such representations had spatial and political effects. In particular, our account illuminates the plural agency of Occupiers, where resistance to depictions of dirt and idleness existed alongside the use of such discourses to discipline each other. We trace a discursive legacy of these events as notions of productivity and cleanliness have circulated within activist responses to 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and the 2014 Flood Wall Street mobilization.


CHEJ. (2016). How To Deal With A Proposed Facility. Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.
This guide takes a generic approach to all sorts of LULU’s (“Locally Undesirable Land Uses”). Groups have used prior editions to block proposed dumps, incinerators, quarries, nuclear plants, unsafe manufacturing facilities, lagoons for the storage of liquid pig manure, fish farms and truck stops, to name a few. Groups have also used this guidebook to block proposed expansions, license transfers, and re-permitting applications.

9780231171465Cordner, A. (2016). Toxic Safety: Flame Retardants, Chemical Controversies, and Environmental Health. Columbia University Press.
Initially marketed as a life-saving advancement, flame retardants are now mired in controversy. Some argue that data show the chemicals are unsafe while others continue to support their use. The tactics of each side have far-reaching consequences for how we interpret new scientific discoveries.
An experienced environmental sociologist, Alissa Cordner conducts more than a hundred interviews with activists, scientists, regulators, and industry professionals to isolate the social, scientific, economic, and political forces influencing environmental health policy today. Introducing “strategic science translation,” she describes how stakeholders use scientific evidence to support nonscientific goals and construct “conceptual risk formulas” to shape risk assessment and the interpretation of empirical evidence. A revelatory text for public-health advocates, Toxic Safety demonstrates that while all parties interested in health issues use science to support their claims, they do not compete on a level playing field and even good intentions can have deleterious effects.

Gray-Cosgrove, C., Liboiron, M., & Lepawsky, J. (2016). The Challenges of Temporality to Depollution & Remediation. SAPI ENS: Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society, (8.1).
Complete depollution and effective remediation are impossible for many wastes.Long-enduring and even permanent wastes such as nuclear waste, ocean plastics, orbital debris, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), among others, present unique problems for remediation because of their temporality. While they may be spatially moved and “cleaned up,” the hazardous or toxic substance themselves will continue to endure in time, which means remediation becomes an exercise in shifting materials in space rather than their elimination. This strategy means that spills, leaks, and future care are pressing problems that can reintroduce the substance to new environments and bodies. Thus, the main methods to address toxicity in the environment—depollution and remediation—are stopgaps at best. While different disciplines have been aware of these problems for years, an interdisciplinary synthesis is lacking. We offer one here by considering a range of research, case studies, and theories around the temporality of waste drawing from archaeology, biology, environmental science, geography, geology, history, science and technology studies (STS), and sociology. We first outline key concepts that describe waste’s long-term temporality: deep-time, the Anthropocene, and slow violence. Then, we consider case studies of nuclear, plastic, and orbital wastes to illustrate these concepts. We conclude with an overview of waste management strategies designed to extend for centuries, including concepts of future generations and kinship. Our goal is to provide an interdisciplinary vocabulary and framework so researchers and waste managers can solve problems that track across challenges and types of waste.

Kang, Y. (2016). “Bodies as Evidence: Activists’ and Patients’ Responses to Asbestos Risk in South Korea.” Science Technology Society (21)1: 42-65.
This article examines how lay people’s response to risk can be shaped by their relationships with activists, by revealing the dynamics behind publicly expressed concerns. To do so, the article analyses data from the participant observation of ‘ban-asbestos activism’ in South Korea, as well as from interviews with activists and patients who are deeply involved in that activism. Operating from an understanding of lay people as a heterogeneous group of constantly interacting actors with a diverging understanding of, and concerns about, risks, this article shows that patients’ concerns about asbestos risk have been marginalised by the activists involved in ban-asbestos activism. In translating individual disease experiences caused by asbestos exposure into a risk faced by the general public by extracting generalisable data, activists’ popular epidemiology has largely disregarded patients’ voices that are rooted in the lives lived with ill bodies. In this regard, this is similar to the epidemiological studies conducted by the government. Thus, this article argues that a power relationship exists between activists and patients within the ban-asbestos activism, similar to, if not identical to, that of the expert–lay relationship. This study emphasises the importance of regarding bodies—that is, bodily experiences of living with illness—as valuable evidence in risk governance and policy.

9781552388044Keeling, A., & Sandlos, J. (2015). Mining and communities in Northern Canada: history, politics, and memory. University of Calgary Press.
For Indigenous communities throughout the globe, mining has been a historical forerunner of colonialism, introducing new, and often disruptive, settlement patterns and economic arrangements. Although indigenous communities may benefit from and adapt to the wage labour and training opportunities provided by new mining operations, they are also often left to navigate the complicated process of remediating the long-term ecological changes associated with industrial mining. In this regard, the mining often inscribes colonialism as a broad set of physical and ecological changes to indigenous lands.
This collection examines historical and contemporary social, economic, and environmental impacts of mining on Aboriginal communities in northern Canada. Combining oral history research with intensive archival study, this work juxtaposes the perspectives of government and industry with the perspectives of local communities. The oral history and ethnographic material provides an extremely significant record of local Aboriginal perspectives on histories of mining and development in their regions.

Lambert, S. (2016). The Poetics of Waste: Queer Excess in Stein, Ashbery, Schuyler, and Goldsmith by Christopher Schmidt (review).Modernism/modernity, 23(1), 263-265.
No abstract: Review of The Poetics of Waste

MacKendrick, N., Stevens, L. (2016). “Taking Back a Little Bit of Control”: Managing the Contaminated Body Through Consumption. Sociological Forum DOI: 10.1111/socf.12245
In this article, we explore the lived experience of avoiding environmental chemicals through safer consumption, such as buying “eco-friendly” products. Using focus groups and in-depth interviews involving 50 subjects, we investigate how individuals become aware of environmental chemicals and how they adapt to this awareness. Our participants describe being surprised or alarmed to learn that chemicals are present in food and commodities that they believed were safe. They respond by developing a set of heuristics rendering the “dangerous” consumer landscape into a space that is amenable to personal control. They learn to read an ingredient label and look for organic certification seals on product packaging. We develop the idea of the “contingent boundary” to describe how participants perceive personal control as uneven: they believe they can activate a protective boundary in local and familiar contexts, but outside these contexts, they believe the boundary dissolves. They accept this contingency as normal and describe having to ignore some chemical exposures, for fear of becoming too “crazy.” We conclude that the individuals in our study accept that inverted quarantine (Szasz 2007) is out of reach, and instead try to impose order upon a ubiquitous risk.

9780520288942Reno, J. O. (2016). Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill.
Univ of California Press.
Though we are the most wasteful people in the history of the world, very few of us know what becomes of our waste. In Waste Away, Joshua O. Reno reveals how North Americans have been shaped by their preferred means of disposal: sanitary landfill. Based on the author’s fieldwork as a common laborer at a large, transnational landfill on the outskirts of Detroit, the book argues that waste management helps our possessions and dwellings to last by removing the transient materials they shed and sending them elsewhere.  Ethnography conducted with waste workers shows how they conceal and contain other people’s wastes, all while negotiating the filth of their occupation, holding on to middle-class aspirations, and occasionally scavenging worthwhile stuff from the trash. Waste Away also traces the circumstances that led one community to host two landfills and made Michigan a leading importer of foreign waste. Focusing on local activists opposed to the transnational waste trade with Canada, the book’s ethnography analyzes their attempts to politicize the removal of waste out of sight that many take for granted. Documenting these different ways of relating to the management of North American rubbish, Waste Away demonstrates how the landfills we create remake us in turn, often behind our backs and beneath our notice.

Renzi, Barbara Gabriella , Matthew Cotton, Giulio Napolitano & Ralf Barkemeyer. (2016). Rebirth, devastation and sickness: analyzing the role of metaphor in media discourses of nuclear power.  Environmental Communication. Early Access. 1-17 | DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2016.1157506
Nuclear power plays an important but controversial role in policies to ensure domestic energy security, fuel poverty reduction and the mitigation of climate change. Our article construes the problem of nuclear power in terms of social discourse, language and public choice; specifically examining the role that metaphors play in the policy domain. We empirically analyze metaphors as framing devices in nuclear energy policy debates in the UK between April 2009 and March 2013, thereby capturing the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. We employ documentary analysis of major UK national broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, using electronic bibliographic tools to extract the metaphors. We then map these metaphors using a Type Hierarchy Analysis, which examines how elements of the target domain (energy technologies and policies) originate from a different source domain. Type hierarchies identify and categorize metaphors, defining the affectual and emotional responses associated with them, providing us with grounded insight into their role in shaping discourse and as a consequence influence public engagement with energy policy. Our analysis highlights three emergent domains of discourse metaphors and discusses the implications of their deployment. Metaphors were found to be classified into three different categories: Rebirth (Renaissance), Devastation (Apocalypse, Inferno, Genie and Bomb) and Sickness (Addiction and Smoking).

Surak, S. (2016). To the Perfection of Waste: Utopian Visions and Reimagining Managing. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 38(1), 5-18.
Growing volumes of waste create ever more management responsibility and financial burden for public administrators, particularly on the local level. Theorists and practitioners make a compelling argument that waste disposal can and should be fully internalized, resulting in a utopian reutilization of waste in a closed circuit of the management of production, consumption, and recycling. Drawing upon the work of Herbert Marcuse, this article identifies the importance of utopian imagining of administration to provide a foundation for new social and environmental relations of human liberation and nondomination. McDonough and Braungart’s “cradle to cradle” model and updated “upcycle” model, the focus of this article, fall into the trap that Marcuse warned about: assuming as necessary the wasteful material conditions of capitalism. While providing a rhetorically convincing description of the technics of a utopian society, the analytic argument ignores the constraints of capitalism in managing waste creation. While their vision is not ultimately liberatory, the appeal of McDonough and Braungart’s proposal is as a discussion point of the limits of current imaginings, opening a space for the reimagining of organizational structures and administrative practices.

Yamaguchi, T. (2016). “Scientification and Social Control: Defining Radiation Contamination in Food and Farms.” Science Technology Society 21(1): 66-87.
Issues related to the existence of low-level radiation in the environment, in food and on farms have added significant problems to the already problem-ridden reconstruction efforts that Japan faces after the crisis in March 2011. Radiation-related issues have brought to the surface hitherto hidden fault lines within society, especially the rifts in the varied interpretations of risk. Despite the deepseated concerns that some people have about the presence of ionised radiation, overt public objections are rarely seen nor heard. Against this backdrop, this article asks the question why the lay public, particularly victims of the disaster, is not more vocal in objecting and expressing concerns. The analysis sheds light on the social conditions that tend to suppress the expression of concern. The data are drawn from in-depth interviews with farmers and consumers in Fukushima and participant observations in public forums and seminars that concern radiation of food and farms. The study indicates that various forms of social control exist within the phenomenon which the author calls ‘scientification of food and agriculture’.


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