Putting Dirt in its Place: The Contemporary Politics of Waste (Conference in Cambridge, UK. June 2017)

2 June 2017 – 3 June 2017

Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT


Registration for this conference is now open. Fees are £40 (full fee) and £20 (student/unwaged); it is also possible to pay a reduced fee to only attend the conference for one day. All fees include lunches and teas/coffees. Registration will close on Sunday 28 May.


Patrick O’Hare (University of Cambridge)


This conference explores the socio-material interfaces where waste meets politics in the present. It brings together a group of established and emergent waste scholars from across the social sciences to discuss the contemporary dynamics of waste and waste labour in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Five themed panels – on infrastructure, labour, circulation, elimination and reconceptualization– provide a structure through which waste will be explored in all its complexity.

Drawing largely on ethnographic research, presenters will debate how legal, regulatory, cultural, bio-political and economic factors influence what is configured and classified as waste. Can we speak of ‘waste regimes’? What role do religion, class and race play in determining the division of waste labour? Are formalization and privatization of waste management leading to the dignification or dispossession of waste workers? Can ethnographic and sociological explorations of the materialities of waste politics challenge normative understandings and definitions of waste, commodity and value? Are ideas like ‘zero waste’ and the ‘circular economy’ green modernist fables or realizable policies, and how do they reconfigure existing patterns of accumulation and inequality?

The conference will be accompanied by an art and photographic exhibition in the Alison Richards building.

The keynote lecture, ‘Overflows, Agencement, and Inequalities of the Circular Economy’, will be given by Professor Zsuzsa Gille (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) on Friday 2 June at 4.15pm. This is a public event and is open to all, free of charge.




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Centre of Latin American Studies, and the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.