Article Alert! New writing in discard studies
When a new technology makes people ill, how high does the body count have to be before protectives steps are taken?
This disturbing book tells a dark story of hazardous manufacturing, poisonous materials, environmental abuses, political machinations, and economics trumping safety concerns. It explores the century-long history of “fake silk,” or cellulose viscose, used to produce such products as rayon textiles and tires, cellophane, and everyday kitchen sponges. Paul Blanc uncovers the grim history of a product that crippled and even served a death sentence to many industry workers while also releasing toxic carbon disulfide into the environment.
Viscose, an innovative and lucrative product first introduced in the early twentieth century, quickly became a multinational corporate enterprise. Blanc investigates industry practices from the beginning through two highly profitable world wars, the midcentury export of hazardous manufacturing to developing countries, and the current “greenwashing” of viscose as an eco-friendly product. Deeply researched and boldly presented, this book brings to light an industrial hazard whose egregious history ranks with those of asbestos, lead, and mercury.
Le travail et la situation sociale des récupérateur·e·s se transforment avec l’intensification des circulations urbaines et mondiales de déchets et leurs prises en charge étatiques, industrielles et humanitaires – avec, aussi, leurs mobilisations et prises de paroles. Claudia Cirelli et Bénédicte Florin proposent une synthèse des enjeux à l’œuvre à partir de l’ouvrage qu’elles ont coordonné en 2015, Sociétés urbaines et déchets. Éclairages internationaux. A travers la diversité des cas présentés, de la marginalisation la plus précaire à la constitution de groupes professionnels, elles relèvent notamment l’émergence d’un discours de plus en plus collectif qui, par l’appropriation des discours dominants sur le « développement durable », plaide la valorisation du travail de récupération avec des arguments écologistes, hygiénistes, économiques et humanitaires. La reconnaissance d’un droit sur les déchets engage plus largement celle d’un droit au travail, quand bien même « informel », et d’un droit à la ville, ressource vitale pour ces populations marginalisées. L’intégration de récupérateur·e·s aux systèmes formels de gestion, aux mains des collectivités publiques et de plus en plus des industries, ne suffit pas : la justice implique un changement radical du rapport que les sociétés entretiennent avec leurs rebuts matériels et avec ceux·lles qui, assigné·e·s à leur récupération, font eux·lles-mêmes figure de « rebuts » sociaux.
Solid waste management is often perceived as one of the most pressing environmental problems facing local governments in urban India and elsewhere in the global south. However, solid waste is not simply a managerial problem but is in many ways a highly political issue that involves diverse political actors at different scales. Particularly at the local level, solid waste management can also be a key part of broader political strategies, acting through its unique materiality as an environmental artefact and social relic. In this paper, we use an urban political ecology approach to examine a recent segregation-at-source project in a small town in West Bengal as a lens to understand more general multi-scalar, socio-political urban processes. Drawing primarily upon qualitative field research, the paper shows how diffuse forms of power and different governmentalities were applied between and within state-level government agents, municipal authorities, local waste workers and local communities to implement and (re)shape this project. The research points to the complexity of urban environmental governance and everyday politics in which action repertoires ranging from threats, the creation of environmental and hygienic subjects, moral appeals and economic rationality, underpinned by the harmful character of waste and by socio-cultural imaginaries thereof, (re)produced uneven political ecologies of waste between and within different neighbourhoods of the city.
Damjanov, K. (2016). Of Defunct Satellites and Other Space Debris Media Waste in the Orbital Commons. Science, Technology & Human Values, 42(1): 166-185.
Defunct satellites and other technological waste are increasingly occupying Earth’s orbital space, a region designated as one of the global commons. These dilapidated technologies that were commissioned to sustain the production and exchange of data, information, and images are an extraterrestrial equivalent of the media devices which are discarded on Earth. While indicating the extension of technological momentum in the shared commons of space, orbital debris conveys the dark side of media materialities beyond the globe. Its presence and movements interfere with a gamut of governmental, commercial, and scientific operations, contesting the strategies of its management and control and introducing orbital uncertainty and disorder in the global affairs of law, politics, economics, and techno-science. I suggest that this debris formation itself functions as media apparatus —it not only embodies but also exerts its own effects upon the material and social relations that structure our ways of life, perplexing dichotomies between the common and owned, governed and ungovernable, wealth and waste. I explore these effects of debris, framing its situation in the orbital commons as a vital matter of concern for studies of the human relationship with media technologies and their waste.
de Bercegol, R., Gowda, S. (2016). Le recyclage informel des déchets à Delhi. Mouvements, 87(3).
Ce portfolio tiré d’une enquête menée par Rémi de Bercegol et Shankare Gowda s’intéresse au recyclage informel des déchets en Inde. A travers des exemples photographiques pris à Delhi au mois de Janvier 2016, les deux chercheurs illustrent l’importance économique, l’inventivité technique et la vitalité sociale d’un secteur disqualifié malgré les possibles environnementaux et sociaux qu’il recèle.
Dini, R. (2016). Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde. Springer.
This book examines manufactured waste and remaindered humans in literary critiques of capitalism by twentieth-century writers associated with the historical avant-garde and their descendants. Building on recent work in new materialism and waste studies, Rachele Dini reads waste as a process or phase amenable to interruption. From an initial exploration of waste and re-use in three Surrealist texts by Giorgio de Chirico, André Breton, and Mina Loy, Dinitraces the conceptualization of waste in the writing of Samuel Beckett, Donald Barthelme, J.G. Ballard, William Gaddis, and Don DeLillo. In exploring the relationship between waste, capitalism, and literary experimentation, this book shows that the legacy of the historical avant-garde is bound up with an enduring faith in the radical potential of waste. The first study to focus specifically on waste in the twentieth-century imagination, this is a valuable contribution to the expanding field of waste studies.
Ithurbide, C. (2016). Art, recyclage et empowerment : la première biennale de Dharavi. Mouvements, 87(3).
Depuis Fontaine de Marcel Duchamp – cet urinoir industriel signé « R. Mutt » et refusé au Salon des Indépendants de New York de 1917 – l’art contemporain n’a cessé d’alimenter ses créations au recyclage d’objets et matériaux délaissés. En parallèle, le recyclage est devenu dans de nombreux territoires pauvres une sorte d’artisanat à échelle industrielle qui réinjecte dans l’économie formelle quantité de matériaux récupérés et retravaillés. Dharavi, situé dans l’aire urbaine de Mumbai (Bombay), en est l’un des plus grands au monde. L’ONG SNEHA a ainsi eu l’idée de croiser ces deux univers distants en organisant la Biennale d’art de Dharavi, du 15 février au 7 mars 2015. Les activités de création organisées avec les habitantes, puis l’exposition de leurs œuvres, ont servi d’espaces de prises de paroles et de mise en visibilité de leur place dans l’économie du quartier, autour notamment des questions d’éducation, de santé et de violence domestique.
Jeanjean, A., Le Lay, S., and Roueff, O. (2016). “Où va l’Homo detritus?“ Mouvements, 87(3).
Introduction to the special issue (excerpt): Si, comme le montrent certains des articles réunis dans ce numéro, il est des dispositifs qui favorisent la dérèglementation tant sur le plan du droit du travail que du respect de l’environnement, il en est d’autres qui, à l’inverse, poussent dans le sens d’une réglementation et d’un contrôle toujours plus fin des comportements et des territoires. C’est ainsi que les réformes dites de « modernisation » des services publics urbains initiées au niveau international par les bailleurs de fonds favorisent l’intervention du secteur privé et poussent dans le sens d’une normalisation internationale en matière d’ordre public, de seuils perceptifs et de sensibilité vis-à-vis des déchets. Ces mesures s’inscrivent dans un long processus historique de contrôle des corps et des populations. Alain Corbin, notamment, a mis en lumière de façon magistrale, pour les villes occidentales du XIXe siècle, les dimensions idéologiques des techniques d’assainissement, leurs effets sur les seuils perceptifs et l’incorporation de normes8. Le tri, le recyclage sont aussi l’occasion pour les pouvoirs publics d’accroître le contrôle des gestes les plus intimes. Les déchèteries sont compartimentées, des localités mettent en place des poubelles pucées et des sacs équipés de codes barres afin que les mauvais·es jeteur·se·s puissent être identifié·e·s ou tout au moins redoutent de l’être. Ces mesures de contention nous rappellent la dimension subversive des déchets, leur potentialité de mise en désordre du monde. Que deviendra-t-elle si le recyclage ou la récupération deviennent l’objet de normes de plus en plus précises et coercitives ?
Lee, E. (2016). “In Defence of Wastelands: A Survivors Guide.” Guts Magazine 7: http://gutsmagazine.ca/wastelands/
Excerpts: “To provide care in the wastelands is about gathering enough love to turn devastation into mourning and then, maybe, turn that mourning into hope.”
“Joining the defence of body and the defence of land is to dream of something beyond constant defence: something like falling in love.”
Leshem, N. (2016). “Spaces of abandonment: Genealogies, lives and critical horizons.” Environment and Planning D, advance proof.
Abandonment has a long presence in Western cultural, philosophical and legal canon, though most contemporary critical debates focus on its sovereign and juridico-political functions. This article considers the concept of abandonment through its more nuanced and multidimensional appearances: at once a political technology and a material economy, a juridical category and a sphere of intimacy. Following the longer conceptual history of abandonment, from its Greco-Roman sources to the present, the article sheds light on abandonment as a systemic political technology, its evolution and significance in different social and political contexts. Drawing on notions of abandonment that remain outside Western intellectual corpus—primarily in early Jewish jurisprudence—this article seeks a more nuanced and expansive understanding of this concept. Closely reading a case documenting the fatal abandonment of one Palestinian man in 2008, the article highlights a myriad of agents, materialities, relations and infrastructures that join in the production and perpetuation of the abandoned present.
Lyons, K. M. (2016). Decomposition as Life Politics: Soils, Selva, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the US–Colombia War on Drugs. Cultural Anthropology, 31(1), 56-81.
How is life in a criminalized ecology in the Andean-Amazonian foothills of southwestern Colombia? In what way does antinarcotics policy that aims to eradicate la mata que mata (the plant that kills) pursue peace through poison? Relatedly, how do people keep on cultivating a garden, caring for forest, or growing food when at any moment a crop-duster plane may pass overhead, indiscriminately spraying herbicides over entire landscapes? Since 2000, the U.S.–Colombian War on Drugs has relied on the militarized aerial fumigation of coca plants, coupled with alternative development interventions that aim to forcibly eradicate illicit livelihoods. Through ethnographic engagement with small farmers in the frontier department of Putumayo, the gateway to the country’s Amazon and a region that has been the focus of counternarcotic operations, this article explores the different possibilities and foreclosures for life and death that emerge in a tropical forest ecology under military duress. By following farmers, their material practices, and their life philosophies, I trace the ways in which human-soil relations come to potentiate forms of resistance to the violence and criminalization produced by militarized, growth-oriented development. Rather than productivity—one of the central elements of modern capitalist growth—the regenerative capacity of these ecologies relies on organic decay, impermanence, decomposition, and even fragility that complicates modernist bifurcations of living and dying, allowing, I argue, for ecological imaginaries and life processes that do not rely on productivity or growth to strive into existence.
McFarlane, C., & Silver, J. (2016). The Poolitical City:“Seeing Sanitation” and Making the Urban Political in Cape Town. Antipode, 49(1): 125-148.
In an urbanizing world, the inequalities of infrastructure are increasingly politicized in ways that reconstitute the urban political. A key site here is the politicization of human waste. The centrality of sanitation to urban life means that its politicization is always more than just service delivery. It is vital to the production of the urban political itself. The ways in which sanitation is seen by different actors is a basis for understanding its relation to the political. We chart Cape Town’s contemporary sanitation syndrome, its condition of crisis, and the remarkable politicization of toilets and human waste in the city’s townships and informal settlements in recent years. We identify four tactics—poolitical tactics—that politicize not just sanitation but Cape Town itself: poo protests, auditing, sabotage, and blockages. We evaluate these tactics, consider what is at stake, and chart possibilities for a more just urban future.
Phillips, C. (2017). Discerning ocean plastics: Activist, scientific, and artistic practices. Environment and Planning A, 0308518X16687301.
For almost 50 years scientists have been drawing attention to marine plastics, working to increase what we know about their incidence and impacts. However, how we come to know things is just as important as what we know. How do oceanic plastics become understood and how does this influence what we decide to do about them? Drawing upon discard studies and cultural geographies, this paper details processes of understanding and problematising marine debris by considering the practices of: an activist working with Indigenous communities to track and manage discarded fishing gear, a scientist investigating the influence of plastics in the lives of sea turtles, and Indigenous artists using oceanic debris as their material. Rather than categorising these knowledge as either lay or scientific, creating a sense of opposition, the concept of traces – material, immaterial, methodological – is employed to foreground the contingency and multiplicity involved. In this way, insight is gained about the materials, embodiments, affects and techniques involved in producing knowledge about oceanic plastics, as well as about how responses to this detritus become articulated and shared with wider publics.
Pow, C. P. (2016). Sensing visceral urban politics and metabolic exclusion in a Chinese neighbourhood. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
Insofar as the production of space is intimately bound up with the bodily senses, it would be reasonable to posit that the politics of space is also at the same time a politics of the senses. In this context, the theoretical remit of this paper is to extend our analysis of the role of the senses in theorising a visceral politics of urban exclusion. Using the case study of a middle-class neighbourhood or xiaoqu in Shanghai, the paper interrogates how class-based sensory ‘othering’ is deployed to preserve and regulate the socio-metabolic environment of the neighbourhood sensorium and justify urban exclusion. Such revanchist (sensory) urbanism, however, is irreducible to the cultural politics of neoliberalism, but also deeply implicated in actually existing metabolic inequalities in contemporary urban China. In particular, those whose metabolic needs are devalued are often stigmatised and cast as ‘sensorial others’ with repulsive sensory and metabolic bodily practices that are at odds with the urban middle-class. By bringing together critical literature on sensory urbanism and urban metabolism, a key contribution of this paper is to advance the theorisation of visceral micro-politics of urban exclusion that is experienced and ‘sensed’ through everyday metabolic inequalities in urban China.
Pratt, G., Johnston, C., & Banta, V. (2016). Lifetimes of Disposability and Surplus Entrepreneurs in Bagong Barrio, Manila. Antipode, 49(1): 169–192.
Working in collaboration with Migrante International and drawing on testimony of residents in the remittance-dependent, migrant-sending community of Bagong Barrio in Caloocan City in Metro Manila, Philippines, we examine the systematic production of lifetimes of disposability that drives labour migration across the generations. The closure of factories and contractualisation of work in the 1980s created the conditions in which labour migration is not a choice but a necessity. Diligent use of remittances to pay for the education of their children in many cases has produced a new generation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and investment in housing often is another route to OFW status. Alongside this narrative of ongoing precarity, we listen closely to the testimony of residents for ways of living that are both subsumed within and somewhat excessive to accounts that might render their lives as merely waste or wasted.
From the inception of modern, petrochemical-derived synthetic plastics to the contemporary situation in which over 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, media assemblages and plastics constitute a range of intra-actions that contribute to our understanding of contemporary material politics. This article explores a number of issues surrounding entanglements of media and plastics, including the formation of vast oceanic plastic garbage patches, the treatment of highly toxic electronics waste, the usage of thermal papers that disrupt the human endocrine system, and the formation of technical fossils whose lack of biodegradability forms one strand of evidence within discourses of the Anthropocene. The material politics of plastics places into conversation temporal scales ranging from geological rhythms, which are measured in millions of years, to the hyperconsumption of 24/7 global capitalism, asking pertinent questions about how we conceptualize contemporary ethical and biopolitical issues surrounding humans and other living systems.
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