Article Alert! New Texts in Discard Studies (October 2017)

Since critical discard studies doesn’t (yet!) have its own journal, conference, or department, Discard Studies publishes a regular table of contents alerts for articles, reports, and books in the field. If you are interested in becoming an editor for non-English article alerts on Discard Studies, or know of a recent article for the next article alert, please contact Max Liboiron:


Altman, R. (2017). How the Benzene Tree Polluted the World. The Atlantic. October 4. 
Into intricate ecological and biological systems human industry introduced PCBs in extraordinary volumes, and in evolutionary terms, rapidly—over the span of three or four human generations, said Spak. But the problem isn’t so much that PCBs are “unnatural,” though one could make that argument. It is that they are molecules nature recognized, familiar enough to be folded into its systems and to confuse them.

Cantor, A. (2017). Material, Political, and Biopolitical Dimensions of “Waste” in California Water LawAntipode 49(5): 1204–1222.
California’s state constitution prohibits the “wasteful” use of water; however, waste is subjective and context dependent. This paper considers political, biopolitical, and material dimensions of waste, focusing on the role of legal processes and institutions. The paper examines a case involving legal accusations of “waste and unreasonable use” of water by the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial County, California. The determination that water was being “wasted” justified the transfer of water from agricultural to urban areas. However, defining these flows of water as a waste neglected water’s complexity and relationality, and the enclosure of a “paracommons” threatens to bring about negative environmental and public health consequences. The paper shows that the project of discursively labeling certain material resource flows as waste and re-allocating these resources to correct this moral and economic failure relies upon legal processes, and carries political and biopolitical implications.

De Rosa, S. (2017). Reclaiming Territory from Below: Grassroots Environmentalism and Waste Conflicts in Campania, Italy(Doctoral dissertation, Lund University).
In the course of 2000s, the region of Campania in southern Italy and its capital city Naples became global icons of waste mismanagement after the images of piles of rubbish occluding their urban areas hit the headlines. Conventional explanations, in Italy and elsewhere, pointed to administrative failure, cultural backwardness and mafia infiltration as the main causes of waste mishandling. In the same narratives, local people opposing the construction of landfills, incinerators and storage sites were labeled the root of the problem. However, what these explanations could not account for was the persistence, the breadth and the magnitude of social mobilizations around environmental concerns and their engagements with issues beyond the urban trash. With this thesis, I address this gap by unearthing the political, socioecological and cultural dynamics of grassroots environmentalism in Campania. My aim is twofold: on the one hand, to debunk hegemonic narratives of the waste ‘crises’, alongside certain framings of protests, through an analysis of the political economy and ecology of waste metabolisms and by investigating specific instances of popular environmentalism; on the other hand, to inquire the politics of society-nature relationships that emerges from grassroots environmental organizing so to work out conceptual contributions to political ecology based on a dialogue between activist and academic knowledges. […]
The findings suggest that socio-environmental conflicts such as Campania epitomize a crucial question of our times: the relations between the unequal distribution of power, the physical and cultural survival of social groups, and the maintenance of ecological conditions suitable for life. The grassroots environmental movements of Campania have developed strategies and notions to tackle these issues that I bring to academic scrutiny. By elaborating the concepts of commoning, ecological decolonization and competing territorialisations, I expand and complement the groundwork of activists, establishing links with emerging debates that interrogate the relevance of grassroots environmental mobilizations for projects of broader political emancipation.

Hoover, E. (2017). Environmental reproductive justice: intersections in an American Indian community impacted by environmental contamination. Environmental Sociology, 1-14.
In order to fully understand the impact of contamination on Indigenous communities, this paper explores how intersectionality has been integral to the development of environmental justice (EJ) and reproductive justice (RJ), and how considering the ways in which these two frameworks then intersect with each other is necessary to more fully explicate how toxicants have threatened the reproduction of human beings and tribal culture. The concept of environmental reproductive justice (ERJ), or ensuring that environmental issues do not interfere with physical or cultural reproduction, involves expanding reproductive justice to include a deeper focus on the environment, and to include the reproduction of language and culture as concerns, in addition to the reproduction of human beings. ERJ also aims to expand the framework of environmental justice to more closely consider the impact of environmental contaminants on physical and cultural reproduction. Through the example of Akwesasne, a Mohawk American Indian community located downstream from industrial sites on the New York/Canadian border, this paper explores how the concept of ERJ can be utilized to understand the unique situation of American Indian communities who are arguing that justice necessitates going beyond equal protection.

Ialenti, V. (2017). Death & Succession Among Finland’s Nuclear Waste ExpertsPhysics Today (70)10: 48.
This article tells a story about how the safety-case experts’ projects and the nuclear sector’s flows of recruits and retirees became entangled with a single but extremely influential human life. I discuss the workflow and project-management disruptions triggered by that influential expert’s untimely death. I protect the deceased person’s identity with a pseudonym (Seppo)—a common practice among anthropologists working with sensitive or personal situations. I conclude by exploring what the story has to teach other organizations today, in this moment of an intergenerational transition in the nuclear-industry workforce across Western Europe, North America, East Asia, and elsewhere.

Klocker, N., Mbenna, P., & Gibson, C. (2017). From troublesome materials to fluid technologies: making and playing with plastic-bag footballs. Cultural Geographies, 1474474017732979.
The material recalcitrance of plastic bags – evident in their refusal to decompose and their capacity to evade neat disposal – is a widespread source of environmental concern and frustration. Yet throughout the Majority (developing) World, the incessant materiality of plastic affords boys and young men an opportunity to make footballs (soccer balls) out of waste. Made in situ, plastic-bag footballs are uniquely suited to local contexts and landscapes – a resourceful technology assembled from otherwise troublesome materials. Plastic-bag footballs are also fluid: perpetually in-the-making and characterized by diverse states of working order. Insights garnered from discussions with young Tanzanian football-makers and players position plastic-bag footballs against neocolonial discourses of poverty and precarity. Meanwhile attentiveness to the socio-material relations of plastic-bag footballs makes plain that they are not inferior technologies. Plastic-bag footballs invite consideration of how humans live, materially, in the Anthropocene. Plastic bags typify the ecological crises of throwaway consumerism and malignant toxicity. Yet, we ask: could it be that plastic-bag footballs exemplify the material resourcefulness, skill, care for things – and even playfulness – needed to cope with these very crises?

Mitchell, M.X. (2017). History, Ethics, and the Environmental Archive. Somatosphere. 
In Marshallese culture the environment itself is sacred.[1] Yet American colonizers used ancestral environments in the Marshall Islands for devastating nuclear weapons testing and related environmental research. Once central to emerging understandings of radiobiology, geology, and ecology, archival records of environmental research in the Marshall Islands offer a wealth of data to historians of science and the environment. These data are the fruits of exploitative, extractive, and destructive scientific enterprise. What ethical obligations attach to historians’ use of such data? What are the ethics of the environmental archive?

Mitchell, M.X. (2017).  “Offshoring American Environmental Law: Land, Culture, and Marshall Islanders’ Struggles for Self-Determination During the 1970s,” Environmental History 22: 209-234.
This article explores the impact of environmental law in US-controlled Micronesia. Historians have suggested that US environmental legislation and legal activism during the 1960s and 1970s often overlooked issues of environmental racism and injustice. This article establishes the importance of these emerging environmental laws for Marshall Islanders living under American rule and subjected to the harms of nuclear weapons testing. In 1972 the displaced people of Enewetak Atoll—a former nuclear test site—sued the United States hoping to stop a new program of conventional weapons testing on their badly contaminated ancestral atoll. The capacious concept of the environment used in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the statute’s ambiguous territorial reach offered islanders important new opportunities to articulate their environmental values and to further their struggles for self-determination over ancestral lands and waters. This article argues that environmental law transcended the artificial territorial boundaries between the United States and its Pacific dependencies, opening up an important new venue of negotiation and conflict over the scope and environmental footprint of US offshore power.

9780262036733Offenhuber, D. (2017). Waste is Information – Infrastructure Legibility and Governance. MIT Press. 
Waste is material information. Landfills are detailed records of everyday consumption and behavior; much of what we know about the distant past we know from discarded objects unearthed by archaeologists and interpreted by historians. And yet the systems and infrastructures that process our waste often remain opaque. In this book, Dietmar Offenhuber examines waste from the perspective of information, considering emerging practices and technologies for making waste systems legible and how the resulting datasets and visualizations shape infrastructure governance. He does so by looking at three waste tracking and participatory sensing projects in Seattle, São Paulo, and Boston.
Offenhuber expands the notion of urban legibility—the idea that the city can be read like a text—to introduce the concept of infrastructure legibility. He argues that infrastructure governance is enacted through representations of the infrastructural system, and that these representations stem from the different stakeholders’ interests, which drive their efforts to make the system legible. The Trash Track project in Seattle used sensor technology to map discarded items through the waste and recycling systems; the Forager project looked at the informal organization processes of waste pickers working for Brazilian recycling cooperatives; and mobile systems designed by the city of Boston allowed residents to report such infrastructure failures as potholes and garbage spills. Through these case studies, Offenhuber outlines an emerging paradigm of infrastructure governance based on a complex negotiation among users, technology, and the city.

Pentecost, M., & Cousins, T. (2017). Strata of the Political: Epigenetic and Microbial Imaginaries in Post‐Apartheid Cape TownAntipode.
The epigenetic and microbiomic imaginaries that animate public health discourse on perinatal nutrition and the infant gut in South Africa offer a case study through which to reconsider the ontological presuppositions of “space” that frame epigenetic biopolitics. We suggest that the mutual constitution of the relations at stake in and around questions of nutrition, mothers and infants, the gut and sanitation in Khayelitsha, can be understood through a Deleuzian geomorphological image of “strata of the political”. Strata are conjunctural entanglements that temporarily stabilise when distinctions hold briefly, and that bring into alignment particular relations and forces that distribute life and non-life. This analytic makes visible and available to political life the spatio-temporal, socio-natural blurring of categories that epigenetic and microbiomic discourses could afford. Grounded ethnographic descriptions of these processes of “mattering” can challenge political epistemologies and take further critical perspectives on space to open up possibilities for a robust postgenomic politics.

Pollans, L. B. (2017). Trapped in trash: ‘Modes of governing’ and barriers to transitioning to sustainable waste managementEnvironment and Planning A, 0308518X17719461.
The disposal of municipal solid waste can be costly and environmentally destructive. This article asks why, given many alternatives, most waste material is still disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Building upon the ‘modes of governing’ framework proposed by Bulkeley, Watson, and Hudson as a means of identifying and interpreting the relationships among the many actors and artefacts that constitute a municipal solid waste management system, this article explores the barriers to transitioning between modes. The case of solid waste management in Boston, Massachusetts illustrates how key factors – limited enforcement of existing policy, institutional and physical fragmentation, financial incentives, and the vested interests of the private sector – protect the disposal mode of governing. Meanwhile, the actors most interested in moving towards more sustainable waste management techniques lack access to decision-making processes and daily operations, limiting their ability to influence policy and practice. The analysis of barriers suggests an alternative way of classifying modes – dominant, incremental, visionary, and aspirational – that explicitly captures the relative entrenchment of each mode, while also opening up the framework for application in other geographies, and for other systems that may or may not share similar governmental rationalities, technologies, or capacities.

Silveira, G.P. (2017). A Form of Waste: Architectural Experiences with the Discarded Vitruvius 202(2). 
One of the most prolific waste producers and energy consumers in our cities is the building sector. Civil construction consumes nowadays at least one third of the world’s natural resources, and construction and demolition waste (CDW) can represent almost a half of the total waste stream in some cities. In this context, a small group of architects, designers and urban planners are beginning to rethink the nature of their profession and starting to develop new methods of reusing different kinds of discarded materials. This research aims to reveal their historical and ideological background, as well as to study their approaches and strategies on the reuse of waste materials in architecture. The paper also presents a brief theoretical background on the relation between waste and society to contextualize the work of those architecture firms.

New series: Toxicity, Waste, and Detritus in the Global South: Africa and Beyond
Featuring short adventures into our planet’s toxic sensorium, by Africanists and some of their scholarly kin.‬ New essays appearing weekly, until we run out. Contributions by anthropologists, historians, geographers, literary scholars, and others.


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