Article Alert! Table of Contents for new texts in Discard Studies

Since discard studies doesn’t have its own journal, conference, or department, Discard Studies publishes a regular table of contents alerts for articles, reports, and books in the field. There are the most recent publications as of the end of April, 2016:

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 8.23.44 AMBarnard, Alex. (2016). Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America. University of Minnesota Press.
Freegans, who try to live on what we throw away, reveal the limits of capitalism but also the limits of consumer activism in changing it.  Freegans is a close look at people who live on what capitalism throws away—including food culled from supermarket dumpsters. Through several years of fieldwork and in-depth interviews in New York City, Alex Barnard has created a portrait of freegans that leads to questions about ethical consumption—like buying organic, fair trade, or vegan—and the search for effective forms of action in an era of political disillusionment.


Howe, C., Lockrem, J., Appel, H., Hackett, E., Boyer, D., Hall, R., … & Ballestero, A. (2015). Paradoxical Infrastructures Ruins, Retrofit, and Risk. Science, Technology & Human Values, 0162243915620017.
In recent years, a dramatic increase in the study of infrastructure has occurred in the social sciences and humanities, following upon foundational work in the physical sciences, architecture, planning, information science, and engineering. This article, authored by a multidisciplinary group of scholars, probes the generative potential of infrastructure at this historical juncture. Accounting for the conceptual and material capacities of infrastructure, the article argues for the importance of paradox in understanding infrastructure. Thematically the article is organized around three key points that speak to the study of infrastructure: ruin, retrofit, and risk. The first paradox of infrastructure, ruin, suggests that even as infrastructure is generative, it degenerates. A second paradox is found in retrofit, an apparent ontological oxymoron that attempts to bridge temporality from the present to the future and yet ultimately reveals that infrastructural solidity, in material and symbolic terms, is more apparent than actual. Finally, a third paradox of infrastructure, risk, demonstrates that while a key purpose of infrastructure is to mitigate risk, it also involves new risks as it comes to fruition. The article concludes with a series of suggestions and provocations to view the study of infrastructure in more contingent and paradoxical forms.

Laser, S. (2016). Why is it so Hard to Engage with Practices of the Informal Sector? Experimental Insights from the Indian E-Waste-Collective. Cultural Studies Review, 22(1), 168-95.
Electronic waste is one of the biggest and dirtiest waste streams worldwide, endangering humans and non-humans especially in the ‘global south’. The government of India issued a new law to deal with this issue in 2011: the ‘e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules’. This article reconstructs the process by which this law was developed over eight years with ethnographically collected data. It points particularly to the ways the law threatens parts of the informal sector. ‘Refurbishers’, who repair used electronic items, are ignored—even though they initially played a crucial part in the newly composed value chain, including during early draft of the electronic waste law. Such informal practices were neglected because of the particular focus of the legislature on modern recycling. This occurred because of the eerie imagination attached to the object electronic waste. Based upon voices from the informal sector, an alternative to this imagination is introduced and critically discussed: ‘juggad’, a new ideal of the broken down. Taken together, the diplomatic endeavour in this article wants to do more than show that the values of informal sector practices such as refurbishment are not appreciated. The goal is to also describe why it is so hard to engage with these practices in the first place. Bruno Latour’s new approach, developed in ‘An Inquiry into Modes of Existence’ (2013), helps unfolding the argument. This recent shift in the actor-network-theory (ANT) renders a postcolonial reconstruction of democracy feasible.

9780814770924_FullLittle, P. C. (2014). Toxic town: IBM, pollution, and industrial risks. NYU Press.
In 1924, IBM built its first plant in Endicott, New York. Now, Endicott is a contested toxic waste site. With its landscape thoroughly contaminated by carcinogens, Endicott is the subject of one of the nation’s largest corporate-state mitigation efforts. Yet despite the efforts of IBM and the U.S. government, Endicott residents remain skeptical that the mitigation systems employed were designed with their best interests at heart.  In Toxic Town, Peter C. Little tracks and critically diagnoses the experiences of Endicott residents as they learn to live with high-tech pollution, community transformation, scientific expertise, corporate-state power, and risk mitigation technologies. By weaving together the insights of anthropology, political ecology, disaster studies, and science and technology studies, the book explores questions of theoretical and practical import for understanding the politics of risk and the ironies of technological disaster response in a time when IBM’s stated mission is to build a “Smarter Planet.”

Guitard, Emile and Virginie Milliot. (2015). Special issue: “Propreté, saleté, urbanité“. Ethnologie française (153). 
Les tensions autour du propre et du sale offrent un angle privilégié pour analyser l’administration de la cité et les négociations de la civilité : tel est l’objet de cette livraison d’Ethnologie française. La saleté de la ville n’est pas qu’une affaire de microbes et de pollution, son assainissement est associé à la discipline des corps, au contrôle des foules et à l’éducation des classes dangereuses ; elle peut être un instrument politique puissant pour légitimer le contrôle et l’expulsion de certaines populations. C’est sans doute pourquoi, sous l’Ancien Régime comme aujourd’hui, en milieu colonial comme en Europe, l’intervention de la police dans la mise au propre des villes est récurrente. La saleté urbaine étant essentiellement celle des Autres, il faut s’en protéger, mais également s’en arranger.
Les contributions de ce numéro montrent ainsi le travail quotidien de la civilité urbaine, de la Goutte-d’Or à Garoua (Cameroun), d’une décharge en Isère aux réseaux d’égouts. Quant à la gestion des ordures, qu’elle soit confiée aux chiffonniers du Caire ou à des multinationales, elle s’inscrit aussi dans les processus de recyclage. La requalification des restes de la ville par ces mêmes chiffonniers, par des « Roms », ou encore par une association berlinoise offre une réponse alternative au modèle de consommation capitaliste et à ses montagnes de rebuts.

9780190239350Spelman, E. V. (2016). Trash Talks: Revelations in the Rubbish. Oxford University Press.
In Trash Talks: Revelations in the Rubbish, Spelman offers a portrait of the surprisingly intimate bonds we maintain with the dumped and discarded. Examining the work of US Supreme Court Justices, archaeologists, narcotics agents, psychoanalysts, philosophers, fiction writers, sanitation workers, economists, and evolutionary theorists, Spelman explores the extent to which we rely on trash and waste to make sense of our lives and to shape connections among us:

  • We use people’s rubbish to gain otherwise hard-to-get information about them.
  • We trumpet wastefulness to proclaim our superior standing.
  • We appear to think that there is a “right” relation to trash and that not having it betrays flaws in one’s character or very being.
  • We are intrigued by or in distress over the idea that evolution is a prodigiously wasteful process.
  • We count on there being telling differences between those who know waste when they see it and those who don’t.

While we may want to shove debris out of sight, Spelman urges us all to think of the many ways that our refuse has a great deal to tell us about who we are and what we value.

Surak, Sarah. (2016). Capitalist Logics, Pollution Management, and the Regulation of Harm: Economic Responses to the Problem of Waste Electronics. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 27(1), 106-122.
The means and conditions of capitalist production and accumulation encourage and necessitate the exploitation of labor and the environment through sustained and continual crises of over-production and under-production, the first and second contradictions of capitalism (O’Connor 1991, 1998). The first contradiction is that the need for continual profit and expansion of capital results in production outpacing demand, subsequently spurring economic devaluation and downturn until the means of production reorganize and eventually restore higher rates of profit only to return to over-production again. The second contradiction is that the exploitation and degradation of the conditions of production result from disincentives to maintain the health of the environment and labor in the long term due to short-term profit motives. This article examines the implications of the first and second contradictions through a policy attempt to manage the harms of waste electronics disposal (or WEEE, waste electronic and electrical equipment), concluding that without altering the drivers of ecological and environmental destruction endemic to capitalism and further globalized through neoliberalism, policies to protect environmental and human health cannot overcome the internal contradictions of capitalism. The examination reveals a dialectical tension between the first and second contradictions in commodity recycling, the “re-commodification” of nature, wherein the first contradiction facilitates the second, and the second reinforces the first in a continued and decaying cycle of what Luke (2006) terms sustainable degradation.
Ureta, S. (2016). Caring for waste: Handling tailings in a Chilean copper mine. Environment and Planning A, 0308518X16645103.
How do we practically deal with the waste produced by industrial processes? Until now this question has overwhelmingly been answered in one way: through the deployment of different kinds of waste management programs, technology-based top-down actions for waste whose ultimate aim is to make it disappear both physically by leaving it in fully enclosed dumps and politically by eliminating it as a matter of concern that must be dealt with. Due to the multiple setbacks that this approach has faced in terms of large spills and continual pollution, this paper states the need to consider a parallel set of practices that have been enacted, that is, the practice of caringfor waste. Based on current developments in science and technology studies, care is presented as a way to deal with waste that, based on everyday practices and the inescapability of failure, proposes temporary and experimental ways to involve all the concerned parties in the search for alternative ways to live with our waste, in material, ethical and political terms. In order to explore the challenges that such an approach entails this paper will present some examples of caring for waste developed by the personnel of a large copper mine located in central Chile.

9781479826940_FullZimring, C. (2016). Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States. NYU Press.

Clean and White offers a history of environmental racism in the United States focusing on constructions of race and hygiene. In the wake of the civil war, as the nation encountered emancipation, mass immigration, and the growth of an urbanized society, Americans began to conflate the ideas of race and waste. Certain immigrant groups took on waste management labor, such as Jews and scrap metal recycling, fostering connections between the socially marginalized and refuse. Ethnic “purity” was tied to pure cleanliness, and hygiene became a central aspect of white identity.
Carl A. Zimring here draws on historical evidence from statesmen, scholars, sanitarians, novelists, activists, advertisements, and the United States Census of Population to reveal changing constructions of environmental racism. The material consequences of these attitudes endured and expanded through the twentieth century, shaping waste management systems and environmental inequalities that endure into the twenty-first century. Today, the bigoted idea  that non-whites are “dirty” remains deeply ingrained in the national psyche, continuing to shape social and environmental inequalities in the age of Obama.
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