Critical Discard Studies is an emerging interdisciplinary sub-field that takes waste and wasting, broadly defined, as its topic of study. We use the “discard studies” instead of “waste studies” to ensure that the categories of what is systematically left out, devalued, left behind, and externalized are left open.
Discard Studies is united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure, and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste, broadly defined. As its starting point, critical Discard Studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of discards and their meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste. As such, Discard Studies is an interdisciplinary field investigating complex systems.
Critical discard studies draws upon approaches to waste undertaken in disciplines of cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, archaeology, geography, history, and environmental studies, to name a few. A growing number of researchers from all of these disciplines are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, a infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for power struggles.
This website is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others whose work touches on themes relevant to the study of waste and wasting.
Discard practices involve many elements, including:
1. social customs
2. labor arrangements
3. resource stocks and flows
4. economic relationships
5. cultural norms
6. public health controversies
7. political histories
8. geographies and circulation