The Discard Studies Twitter Conference is November 16th and 17th, 2020!
Presenters will present their arguments, one tweet at a time, according to the schedule below. They’ll tweet once per minute, tagging #Discard2020 on the first tweet so you can find their threads, and will stay online for 15 minutes after their thread is posted to answer questions and comments. The Discard Studies Twitter page (@DiscardStudies) will retweet each presentation as well. Please engage, Twitter-style, with each presenter. If you miss a presentation in real-time, you can always find it later using #Discard2020.
Update: we’ve linked to the first tweet in each thread here, so you can find everything in one place!
Monday, November 16th
10:30 UTC/7am NST/5:30am EST/2:30am PST: Discard Studies welcome @DiscardStudies
11:00 UTC/ 7:30am NST/ 6am EST/ 3am PST: José Rafael Soares @graphazoni: The waters of transgressors: the case of industrial pollution in the Hydrographic Basin
Our investigation will trace the phenomenon of industrial pollution in Portugal, from 1892 to 1974. Since the XIXth century, contemporary Portuguese society saw a new dynamism that promised progress and material well-being. As a matter of river pollution, we trace the actions of hydraulic services (1892), whose actions resulted in various transgressions, such as fishing with poison or illegal ash discharging. For instance, through their records it is possible to map areas of activity that could have caused contamination of numerous watercourses. Throughout three different political regimes, industrial establishments were classified according to the production of pollution in the surrounding communities. Among the most affected communities, we found in riverside towns a permanent place of conflict and dispute. The river is thus a privileged vehicle for interpreting the history of hydrological planning and a place of testimony of pollution and resistance against it.
12 UTC/ 8:30am NST/ 6am EST/ 3am PST: Miko Aliño @mikoalino: Sachet Economy: Big Problems in Small Packets
Sachets – a pocket-sized packaging containing a variety of consumable products – are widely perceived as affordable, convenient, and indispensable in low-income communities in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. Developed in the 1980s, this type of packaging, which are made from a composite of aluminum, adhesives, and different kinds of plastics, were marketed to lower socioeconomic brackets, thus stretching their purchasing power to buy instant coffee, powdered milk, condiments, and shampoo, among others. Sachets comprise about half of residual plastic waste – a problematic fraction of municipal waste that often ends up in drainage systems, waterways, and neighborhood dumpsites. Cities struggle in managing this non-recyclable material, leaving local governments with a few options other than landfilling. Some combine them with other plastic waste to make road additives and construction materials. Other local governments, meanwhile, hand them over to cement companies to burn as alternative fuel. These greenwashing options, sometimes mislabeled as recycling activities, present new problems like microplastic run-offs and dioxin pollutants. Phasing out sachets and other single-use plastics is the normative course of action expected from decision makers in governments and corporate board rooms. Likewise, governments should complement this transition with mandatory and ambitious plastic reduction targets; binding EPR (extended producer responsibility) legislation to ensure accountability for the impact of these disposable products; incentives for alternative delivery systems and product redesign.
15:30 UTC/ 12:00 NST/ 10:30am EST/ 7:30am PST: Chloe Alexander @ChloeAl28858575: Carbon Capture and Storage as Colonial: Deregulation and Criminalization in the Alberta Tar Sands
For the last twenty years, the Canadian and Albertan governments have pursued carbon capture and storage (CCS) as their main strategy for governing ecological harm in the Alberta Tar Sands. This “technological fix”, which involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from oil and gas operations and injecting them deep underground, has been promoted for its ability to dramatically reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions in the Tar Sands. Canada and Alberta have collectively poured billions of dollars into the promotion and development of CCS and have reconfigured environmental regulatory and governance frameworks to encourage its widespread use. During this same time period, Indigenous Land Protectors who seek to defend their land against this harm, have been subject to an increasing array of surveillance and criminalization in the name of protecting “critical infrastructure” (such as oil and gas infrastructure). I argue that CCS, when understood alongside the criminalization of acts of land defense, is deeply colonial. Not only does it protect the ability of corporations to pollute, it also perpetuates an industry that is premised on the criminalization of Indigenous jurisdiction and the overexposure of Indigenous communities to ecological harm.
16:00 UTC/ 12:30pm NST/ 11am EST/ 8am PST: JP King @jpkinggg: What is the future of discard studies education?
Imagine this: a forward-thinking university creates the first “discard studies program”. This unique degree must transcend its parental disciplines and consider following in the footsteps of its sibling fields of study dedicated to emergent subjects, like gender studies, animal studies, environment studies, and disability studies. What are the core concepts, skills, dispositions, and strategies needed for future discard scholars to flourish? So, we host a talking circle and discuss what should be learned and how should it be taught. I will explore the benefits and drawbacks of field formation, and focus on the need for imaginative transdisciplinary collaboration, integrated systems thinking, critiques of power, critical literacy and inquiry, and project-based learning. Framed as design fiction, I position this Twitter essay as an invitation to collectively author suggested discard studies curriculum and pedagogies.
16:30 UTC/ 1pm NST/ 11:30am EST/ 8:30 EST: Kathleen Sullivan and Patricia Strach @kathlsullivan &@PatriciaStrach: “I’m Going for an Officer”
Our research into municipal garbage collection at the turn of the 20th century has stumbled upon a Karen. A drawing accompanying a vignette in a 1908 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette depicts a small white woman in a bonnet, berating a black man who is her garbage collector. She threatens, “I’m going for an officer.” We explain this dynamic as the product of local governments’ reliance on white middle-class women to do what local governments could not—get residents to put out their garbage cans. Women’s civic organizations had been part of the movement for municipal garbage collection, but they were pushed out of the Departments of Public Works and Health once municipal collection was underway. When cities faced noncompliant residents, however, they ran into a garbage can problem, and women-as-homemakers were available to serve as model residents. White, middle-class women provided the infrastructural power to induce habits at the curb and in the home. They performed work for the government while reshaping their own political identity based on both race and class privilege. With viral videos of white women quick to call the police on people of color becoming a thing today, we reach back over a century to identify the shaping of white women’s identity as a result of governments’ need for resources to accomplish their waste management goals.
17:00 UTC/ 1:30pm NST/ 12:00 EST/ 9am PST: Egor Novikov @egor_novi: Dirty Powers of Humanitarianism
We are used to thinking of humanitarianism as a force of normalization, a global agent of order and hygiene. However, in practice it means that humanitarian work dwells on ambiguity and filth, using them as sources of power and value. The political influence of humanitarianism derives from its intermediary position between the ‘normality’ and the ‘disorder’, between clean and dirty lives and environments. Moreover, to the humanitarians working in the field, the dirt, ambiguity and suffering they have to face are not just regrettable failures of social order, but sources of valuable and potentially transformative experiences, described by them as ‘reality’, ‘emotional awakening’, ‘change of the perspective’, etc. In this light, within the rational order of modernity humanitarianism provides access to a contaminated frontier, where the order can be relativized, transgressed and re-established. Calcutta is a popular humanitarian destination not only because of Mother Teresa, but also due to the morbid enchantment of poverty and virile chaos associated with it. To understand how humanitarianism produces value and power from dirt, I analyze series of humanitarian encounters between the wretched urban dwellers and the secular and religious volunteers from Global North on the streets and in the shelters of Calcutta, comparing them with mystical practices, from Tantric practitioners to Catholic mystics, that use filth and transgression as tools for self-cultivation and sources of authority.
19:30 UTC/ 4pm NST/2:30pm EST/ 11:30am PST: MC Forelle @mcforelle: Copyright’s impact on digital waste
The U.S. copyright system was established at a time when the material conditions for copying and distributing creative works were limited. At the time, copyright was seen as an uneasy compromise between the need to provide financial protection for creators and the need to encourage the flow of ideas and information among the public. Over the centuries, this uneasy compromise was manipulated by powerful actors into an entrenched system that largely protects the financial interests of mega-corporations, and which is expanding worldwide through a dense network of treaties, trade agreements, and licensing schemes. However, with the advent of digital technologies, the material conditions of copying and distribution have radically changed. Today, copying is both immaterially easy and materially devastating. While sharing books, music, and movies has become almost effortless, as software gets embedded into our everyday objects – household appliances, medical devices, cars – the application of copyright laws in these realms is wreaking havoc. This discussion will reveal how the creep of copyright into our software-embedded daily lives is stifling practices of maintenance, repair, and modification that are critical for the sustainable life of our devices. Without a serious intervention, corporate interests will continue to use copyright to shut down interoperators, repair services, and consumers, resulting in massive waste. But even more, copyright creep has expanded romantic notions of authorship (and ownership), whose deeply individualistic roots foreclose other, more communal, ways of thinking about what it means to be a responsible for our devices, to be a steward of our environments and our communities.
20:00 UTC/ 4:30pm NST/ 3pm EST/ 12 PST: Sarah Stanford-McIntyre @sarahthestan: Oil Waste and Wasted Oil: Reimagining Petroleum Futurity in the Age of Energy Transition
For over one hundred years, American oil companies and policy makers understood resource waste as a central industry problem. The industry’s early days were marked by gratuitous waste of crude oil due to lack of infrastructure and lax industry regulation. Debates about waste came from a variety of fronts including military personnel worried about national security as well as politicians and industry leaders working to manage the boom and bust through supply control. Full resource depletion was seen as ultimately inevitable and maintaining constantly increasing global demand was a central concern. However, in spring 2020, oil prices dipped negative for the first time in history. Buyers were paid to offload oil from indebted distributors. Wells were shut down as subsurface reserves filled up and excess oil was stored in offshore container ships. In 2020, after decades of concern over resource scarcity and depletion, oil had become waste. The term waste is subjective. It describes material with little economic value but also denotes valuable material that has been used irresponsibly or ineffectually. Public concern about waste or consternation over wasted resources is steeped within the culture of capitalism and intertwined understandings about environmental and economic risk. This presentation uses this shifting idea of waste to contextualize how the American oil industry has dealt with resource waste in the past, and offers some predictions for the future of petroleum in a post-fossil fuels world.
Tuesday, November 17th
10:30 UTC/7am NST/5:30am EST/2:30am PST: Discard Studies welcome @DiscardStudies
11:00 UTC/ 7:30am NST/ 6am EST/ 3am PST: Sneha Sharma @sneha_sharma12: Forgotten Wasteworkers of Mumbai – Uncertainty and Moral Logics of Blame
In 2016, a massive fire at Mumbai’s Deonar dumping ground triggered city residents to demand closure of the dump. Since decades, wasteworkers from low caste minorities have laboured at the dump. Working in toxic and precarious conditions with tacit approval by the state they helped to reduce the unsegregated garbage load. Following complaints by middle-class activists, the bureaucrats decided to close the site, build a WTE and blamed the wasteworkers for the fire. Displacing livelihoods, their entry was banned and the area was subjected to surveillance and security. However, the new boundary wall & CCTVS did not deter wasteworkers to endure violence and jump across to access waste. While (waste) materials are increasingly identified as a resource by the state, the labour of wasteworkers is continuously de-centered, shunting them to more unstable forms of employment and compounding their exploitation. I argue that technological & profit-oriented solutions for extracting value from waste are not solely responsible for displacing wasteworkers. Municipal logics are driven by cultural attitudes, i.e. metonymic associations of pollution and dirt are projected onto bodies of minority caste groups marginalizing them. In civic narratives these are reproduced through a moral politics of blame.
11:30 UTC/ 8am NST/6:30am EST/ 3:30am PST: Kelly-Ann MacAlpine and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw @common_worlds, @kellymacalpine, @vpacinik: Reconfiguring Waste(ing) Pedagogies in Early Childhood Education
Neoliberal and neocolonial processes of waste(ing) are enacted in everyday early childhood education practices. Particularly troubling are the management and stewardship approaches that young children are exposed to through pedagogical and curricular processes. These approaches evoke reducing, reusing, and recycling (the 3 Rs) as best practices (e.g., Buckingham, 2013; Kelly & Lukaart, 2005; Uyanik et al., 2011), and offer little critical analysis of colonial waste relations and children’s connections to them (Liboiron, 2018). In fact, pedagogical and curricular approaches in early childhood education serve to maintain invisible “waste colonialism [as] always about the transboundary movement of waste from areas of privilege and affluence to areas with lower economic status and influence,” as Max Liboiron writes (2018, para 3). Our presentation, informed on our waste research, will involve brief vignettes about how waste colonialism is folded within early childhood education pedagogical and curricular practices. Our approach for the presentation is two-fold. The first four tweets will critically analyze waste practices in early childhood education (ECE) that focus on the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle,). The remaining three tweets will involve specific engagements with our research work with young children to show how colonial waste relations persist in pedagogical and curricular approaches.
15:30 UTC/ 12 NST/ 10:30am EST/ 6:30am PST: ARE Taylor @alexretaylor: Why discard studies needs to get its head in the cloud
Pushing discard studies in new directions, this submission will introduce readers to the role that cloud storage plays in facilitating the production of e-waste. While the environmental pollution of the cloud has been widely acknowledged, the aim of this contribution is to advance an alternative perspective on the relationship between cloud computing and waste, arguing that cloud storage plays a key but overlooked role in economies of engineered obsolescence. Aware of ever-shortening device lifespans, users are increasingly turning to cloud storage providers like Dropbox and iCloud to back-up the precious digital files stored on their devices, with the hope that this data will remain accessible when their device should inevitably break. By making it quick and easy for users to simply re-download their data to a new device, the cloud props up and supports a techno-economic system based on continuous device failure and perpetual upgrading. It will be argued that the cloud and the device must be seen as two sides of a self-perpetuating cycle of techno-waste production. In doing so, this contribution will trace how the cloud has emerged as an increasingly valuable revenue stream in its own right, surfacing as a vital tool with which technology companies can extract value from device failure not only in the form of customer upgrades after device breakdown but from the mere prospect of future failure, with customers subscribing to increasingly pricey cloud storage packages in anticipation of breakdown. It will be suggested that a dominant focus within e-waste research on devices themselves has left aside the larger infrastructures, like the cloud, that support and accelerate cultures of techno-waste.
16:00 UTC/ 12:30pm NST/ 11am EST/ 8am PST: Samantha Shorey, Sarah Fox, Estefania Rodriguez and Sara Kingsley @samshorey, @perhaxis: ‘Robots Can’t Get Sick’: Media Reporting on the Automation of Waste Labor Before and During the COVID-10 Pandemic
Millions of people deemed “essential workers” amid the COVID-19 pandemic perform waste labor such as cleaning, garbage collection, and sorting recycling. With heightened possibilities of contamination brought on by the virus, waste management industries have made an accelerated push to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) into operations. Although news media reports have long positioned AI as a solution to the everyday “problems” of waste labor industries such as employee turn-over and labor costs, the COVID-19 pandemic merges the perceived potential of AI with a renewed sense of urgency and an infusion of capital meant to address the crisis. Our research draws on an exhaustive analysis of local and national news reports about automation in two waste labor industries—recycling and airport sanitation—over the last five years. Not only do media reports position robotics and automation technologies as unaffected by the dangers of waste labor (e.g., “robots can’t get sick”), they also emphasize their ability to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently than human workers. The promises of AI within this reporting are voiced almost exclusively by executives at the companies that produce automated waste technologies and administrators at the facilities that employ them. We argue that this uncritical boosterism — which elides the perspectives of workers — has dominated media discourse and framed public understanding of AI in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an uncritical framework for their rapid adoption in response to the crisis. These findings highlight the need for public-facing scholarship that promotes a fuller understanding of the often invisible labor of calibration, troubleshooting, maintenance and repair upon which AI depends.
17:00 UTC/ 1:30pm NST/ 12:00 EST/ 9am PST: Daniel Gerling @danielgerling: “Gotta Keep the Devil Way Down in the Hole”
Christianity functioned as an important catalyst in the late-19th-century’s reimagination of human excrement as a waste instead of a valuable resource. In fact, shit wasn’t even referred to by the descriptive euphemism “human waste” until 1867. Through a study of domestic manuals, we can see how the authors leveraged passages such as Deuteronomy 23:12 and John Wesley’s phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” to compel women to rid their homes of shit as quickly as possible. Other factors such as sewerage of cities, the discovery of guano, and the advent of bacteriology were also factors in this transformation of shit into a waste. But for domestic American women, removing excrement was a highly moral duty. The consequences of this intersection between religion and sanitation caused shit to be framed as “evil” and farts as “pungent convictions of sin.” While major religions have had prescriptions for cleanliness for centuries, this particular moment caused great anxiety, as most newly sewered homes included indoor toilets by 1900. The architecture of new homes in the mid-19th century reflects this tension of simultaneously domesticating and demonizing shit, as new American indoor bathrooms were essentially uncomfortable appendages to a normal home design.
19:30 UTC/ 4pm NST/ 2:30 EST/ 10:30am PST: Christy Spackman and Marisa Manheim @christyspackman: Is the yuck response to turning wastewater into drinking water just a matter of taste? How Arizona utilities are building support for water reuse through beer.
Despite progress, humans keep degrading the quality and quantity of available water. Regulators and water technology companies have responded by advancing pilot projects demonstrating the ability of advanced water treatment (AWT) to make municipal wastewater “better than bottled water.” Yet most people remain skeptical about drinking recycled wastewater. Through a study of two water reuse brew festivals in Arizona, USA, this research examines how drinking water utilities are partnering with business owners and microbes in a multi-step process to “clean up” the idea of drinking wastewater. First, tours of wastewater treatment plants showcase the technical capacity to make water with “nothing” in it. Next, at the brewery, microbes and heat are applied to convert treated wastewater into a charismatic beverage. Finally, the public is invited to join in the process, tasting the beer to judge for themselves. Reuse brew fests demonstrate the capacity of AWT to clean discarded water for potable reuse, but focusing on taste as the central method for evaluating AWT consolidates trust in technological solutions. Doing so threatens to minimize scientific uncertainty around the discards produced by AWT, and may ultimately “clean” policy makers’ hands of the responsibility for moving beyond simple fixes to address compromised water supplies.
20:00 UTC/ 4:30pm NST/ 3:00pm EST/12:00 PST: Melanie Valencia, Fernanda Solíz, Milena Yépez @melvalvel: Waste picking and reclaiming as social provisioning: constructing a socially restorative and regenerative circular economy
There is growing pressure to transition to a new economic model from ecological and feminist economics perspectives. Implementing a circular economy in Latin America can be an opportunity to include recyclers and other informal workers in the economy and close the gender gap. The sensemaking of becoming a female waste reclaimer leader and how recyclers can fit in this model is explored through in-depth interviews with ten leaders from Colombia and Ecuador. The modifying effect of becoming part of an association is rooted in social provisioning communities formed to exchange material, training and create social safety nets. Through their testimonies, recyclers’ demands to be recognized, access waste and be remunerated for their service, are shown to be equivalent to the recognition of care work. A framework that combines the 9Rs of the circular economy with the demands for recyclers’ dignity, care-work counting, and environmental justice is presented to promote a socially restorative and regenerative circular economy.
21:00 UTC/ 5:30pm NST/ 4pm EST/ 1pm PST: Targol Mesbah @targolmesbah: Multiple sites and scales of resistance to radioactive colonialism
Nuclear power creates radioactive waste material at different stages of its production and use, leading to hazardous health consequences that can last far into the future. The mining of uranium, its transportation, enrichment, storage, and use in nuclear plants and weapons, each expose people and places to different levels of harm and risk. Scholars and activists bring attention to how radioactive colonialism disproportionally affects indigenous communities and how these communities are excluded from decisions made by governments and corporations that subject them to exposure, leading to illness, death, and birth defects. Radioactive contamination has a very long shelf life and is also far reaching in its movement by wind, soil, and water which suggests radiation contamination is a planetary concern. I propose that practices of direct democracy and community self-determination which are often dismissed as not being “scalable” are a vital part of multiple scales of resistances to radioactive colonialism. For example, the Nuclear Issues Study Group in New Mexico (US) where there is a long legacy of radiation from mining, has been leading community-based education and organizing to mitigate harm from contaminated water and soil. Another important site of resistance is in Chiapas, Mexico where the Zapatista autonomous municipalities continue to protect their territories from the Mexican State’s efforts to open the region to mining.