Top Discard Studies Clicks of 2019

We decided to do something new this year at Discard Studies: we tracked the links our readers followed. With ‘The Dirt” coming out monthly with it’s hundreds of links to new articles, calls for papers, and opportunities, we wanted to see how readers were directing their attention and voting with their mouses. Mice? Never sure on that one.

Here are the top 11 links followed by readers in 2019. Why 11? Because numbers 10 and 11 were only three clicks apart!

rope repaired

#11: “On Materiality and Meaning: Ethnographic Engagements with Reuse, Repair & Care” by Cindy Isenhour and Joshua Reno in Worldwide Waste Journal

Abstract: The reimagination and revaluation of discarded goods, through repair and reuse is, for many, a quotidian and mundane element of everyday life. These practices are the historical precedent and continue to be the stuff of common sense for a significant portion of human society. And yet, reuse, repair and other elements of a ‘circular economy’ have recently emerged as a significant focus in environmental and economic policy. Proponents claim that reuse practices represent a potentially radical alternative to mainstream consumer culture and a form of carework that generates new social possibilities and personal affects. This essay explores the myriad dimensions of reuse as care, relational practice and as consumer alternative by examining these practices in their social context, lived experience and as embedded within larger political and economic structures of capitalist accumulation and abandonment. We argue that the study of reuse, in old and new forms, takes on added political significance in an era of environmental and economic crises, especially as a critical part of state-based approaches toward the circular economy that attempt to appropriate carework in new forms of value generation.

#10: “How Pollution is a Function of Colonialism,” by Max Liboiron in Teen Vogue

Excerpt: Lloyd Stouffer, editor of Modern Packaging magazine, declared in 1956 that “The future of plastics is in the trash can.” This call for the “plastics industry to stop thinking about ‘reuse’ packages and concentrate on single use” came at the start of a new era of mass consumption of plastics in the form of packaging, which now accounts for the largest category of plastic products produced worldwide. He saw that disposables were a way to create new markets for the fledgling plastics industry. This idea assumes access to land. It assumes that household waste will be picked up and taken to landfills or recycling plants that allow plastic disposables to go “away.” Without this infrastructure and access to land, Indigenous land, there is no disposability.

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#9: “Time Bombing the Future: Synthetics created in the 20th century have become an evolutionary force, altering human biology and the web of life” by Rebecca Altman in Aeon Magazine

Excerpt: Today, PCBs are a notorious class of global pollutants and carcinogens capable of interfering with human fertility, development, cognition and immunity. Though human-made, biology recognises and can even interact with them. PCBs are everywhere, and by design, they endure. Banned by international treaty, they nonetheless live on in relic electrical equipment such as light ballasts and transformers, in riverbeds, and even in creatures of the extreme deep. Scientists now call most PCBs legacy contaminants – enduring poisons from the past.


#8: Image of “Throwaway Living” from Life Magazine, 1955

Excerpt from the caption: The objects flying through the air in this picture would take 40 hours to clean—except that no housewife need bother. They are all meant to be thrown away after use. Many are new; others, such as paper plates and towels, have been around a long time but are now being made more attractive.

#7: Discard Studies Patreon

Patreon is a platform that lets fans and followers fund the content they want. For the most part, Discard Studies is funded out of pocket by the editors. The Patreon membership lets readers donated as little as $1/month to help defray costs–at this point, paying graduate student editors because we don’t think precarious positions should be financially uncompensated. We are excited and humbled by our 17 Patreon donors, all of whom are important researchers in the realm of discard studies. Their work is what we read, cite, and build the blog upon. Thank you!

#6: Syllabus for “Pure Filth: Anthropology in a world of waste” by Jacob Doherty

Excerpt from the syllabus (via Discard Studies syllabi archive): This course examines what the world looks like from the vantage point of its diverse waste streams. Waste is all around us. A product of everyday life, of economic activity, of regimes of bodily care and hygiene, waste is an inescapable aspect of contemporary culture and a central element in the constitution of cultural difference. Taking up classic and contemporary anthropological approaches to waste, the course asks where is “away” when we throw things away? How does the production, disposal, and management of waste contribute to the construction of social differences of race, class, and gender?

The 1917 Silent Parade in New York City

“The 1917 Silent Parade in New York City was organized on the heels of the St. Louis race riots that left at least 200 people dead and about 6,000 homeless. Photo: Underwood and Underwood via Wikimedia Commons” (from original essay)

#5: “Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat” by Mary Annaïse Heglar in Medium

Dear Climate Movement:
I’m with you when you say that climate change is the most important issue facing humankind. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s the most important one ever. But, when I hear folks say—and I have heard it—that the environmental movement is the first in history to stare down an existential threat, I have to get off the train.
This game of what I call “existential exceptionalism” is a losing one. It is not only inaccurate, shortsighted, and arrogant—it’s dangerous. It serves only to divorce the environmental movement from a much bigger “arc of history.”
And for me, as a Black woman from the South, it’s downright insulting.

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#4: Artist Mandy Barker’s website

Mandy Barker is an international award-winning photographer whose work involving marine plastic debris over the past 10 years has received global recognition. Working with scientists she aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans whilst highlighting the harmful affect on marine life and ultimately ourselves.

#3: “Place, people and processes in waste theory: a global South critique” by Lucy Bell in Cultural Studies

Abtract: Scholars across the humanities and social sciences have long sought to theorize waste, and more particularly the relationship between humans – their history, society, culture, art and thought – and their discards. My contention, though, is that these theories, since Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger (1966) and Thompson’s Rubbish Theory (1979), have been predominantly based in and on global North contexts and, concomitantly, have taken as their axiom the distance between our cultures, lives, experiences and our material rejects. By intersecting existing cultural theories of waste with two important emerging schools of thought – environmental justice and new materialism – I argue that the exclusion or side-lining of places, notably in the global South where countless people live on a day-to-day basis with, on, and off waste, leads to certain imbalances, biases and gaps. Most notably, the livingness and agency of material rejects is often overlooked in theories that oppose humans and other-than-human waste. By way of conclusion, I propose the notion of ‘living waste’ – a more literal and material take on Bauman’s well-known concept ‘wasted lives’ – as a new point of departure for a reconceptualization of waste that might escape the prevailing dualisms and account simultaneously for ‘full-belly’ and ‘empty-belly’ contexts, human (wasted) lives and other-than-human waste materials, and understandings of lived experiences of waste.


#2: “The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons” by Matto Mildenberger in Scientific American

Excerpt: The man who wrote one of environmentalism’s most-cited essays was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamaphobe—plus his argument was wrong.
Of course, plenty of flawed people have left behind noble ideas. That Hardin’s tragedy was advanced as part of a white nationalist project should not automatically condemn its merits. But the facts are not on Hardin’s side. For one, he got the history of the commons wrong. As Susan Cox pointed out, early pastures were well regulated by local institutions. They were not free-for-all grazing sites where people took and took at the expense of everyone else.

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#1: The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice

The environmental justice atlas documents and catalogues social conflict around environmental issues. Across the world communities are struggling to defend their land, air, water, forests and their livelihoods from damaging projects and extractive activities with heavy environmental and social impacts: mining, dams, tree plantations, fracking, gas flaring, incinerators, etc. As resources needed to fuel our economy move through the commodity chain from extraction, processing and disposal, at each stage environmental impacts are externalized onto the most marginalized populations. Often this all takes place far from the eyes of concerned citizens or consumers of the end-products.
The EJ Atlas collects these stories of communities struggling for environmental justice from around the world. It aims to make these mobilization more visible, highlight claims and testimonies and to make the case for true corporate and state accountability for the injustices inflicted through their activities. It also attempts to serve as a virtual space for those working on EJ issues to get information, find other groups working on related issues, and increase the visibility of environmental conflicts.