We tend to think that we are familiar with waste because we deal with it every day. Yet,  most aspects of waste are entirely hidden from common view and understanding, including the wider social, economic, political, cultural, and material systems that shape waste and wasting. Unlike studies that take waste and trash as their primary objects of study, discard studies looks at wider systems that make waste and wasting the ways they are. For instance, rather than asking how much people recycle and why they don’t recycle more, discard studies asks why recycling is considered good in the first place (MacBride 2011, Liboiron 2009, Ackerman 1997).

The field of 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, 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.

Discard Studies was founded in 2010 as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures. We produce and host: monthly research-based articles on discard studies; compile a monthly report on recent articles, jobs, and calls for participation relevant to discard studies; and maintain a repository of definitions, bibliographies, and syllabi as resources.

For a longer description of the sub-field, see Why Discard Studies?
You can follow Discard Studies on Facebook here.

9 thoughts on “ABOUT

  1. As one who struggles with holding on, I look forward to learning about the creativity of letting go.

  2. Hi, this is Maite Zubiaurre, Professor at UCLA and an admirer of “Discard Studies.” I am writing a book called “Talking Trash” on the cultural representation of garbage, and would like to interview you on the subject. Let me know if this would be feasible.
    Best wishes,
    Maite Zubiaurre

    • For twelve years, we have been visiting 1000 yards of Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Sea Shore. We have rambled this one remote beach hundreds of times to gather plastic debris washing out of the Pacific Ocean. By carefully collecting and “curating” the bits of plastic, we fashion it into works of art— art that matter-of-factly shows, with minimal artifice, the material as it is. The viewer is often surprised that this colorful stuff is the thermoplastic junk of our throwaway culture. As we have deepened our practice we’ve found, like paleontologists, each bit of what we find opens into a pinpoint look at the whole of human culture. Each bit has a story to tell.

      We’ve had over 40 exhibitions of our work ranging from the SFMOMA to the US Embassy in the Republic of Georgia. Although our work speaks about a real environmental problem, art is the central theme. This multifaceted exploration is also a two-part love story. The love of a place in a magnificent national park just 25 miles from San Francisco, a major American megalopolis. And, this beach is the sight of our first date opening to an ongoing marriage of two souls dedicated to the notion that beauty can contribute to righting a world out of balance.


      • Thanks so much for sharing your work with us, Judith! The art is beautiful, even while the source (the medium?) is so disturbing. I’ll add your website to our links section. — Robin

  3. Thank you so much for making this list of artists working in discard studies. It’s a wonderful resource and I’m so happy to be on it! Could you change the spelling of my name from Kristina to Christina? Thank you so much!

    Christina Freeman,
    Plums for Trash

  4. I am currently an MFA in Melbourne, Australia. My research is based on ‘Contemplating impression of emotions in the discarded object in parallel to the physical and the psychological aspect of the human body through sculptural formation in paint and installation.’
    Collecting the refuse for many years and I re-use the collected and make art to create awareness through the transformation of the found.
    I have used wood, cardboard, paperbark, glass, organic material together with the man-made and now my research has extended particularly to the black plastic objects found on the beach. These salvaged objects have a compelling presence.They tell a story through their decay, materiality and washed out appearance There is a compelling desire to rescue the broken and to reveal the inner beauty of the unnoticed in my work. To reveal that first impression.


  5. Greetings from Greyton South Africa!

    I am a MSc student of the Schumacher College in Devon, UK, currently studying the connections between holistic science and waste management, and right now finishing a project here in the Overberg area of the Western Cape. This Saturday I organized a festival called Trash to Treasure , the First Annual Greyton Festival of Transition.

    The Festival was held at the local dump site, where we extracted the materials needed to build stuffed plastic bottle composting toilets, a stage with rammed earth tire retaining wall and hanging interactive drum kit, and a workshop space as well where a variety of workshops took place during the day. Nick Ralphs of the Haut Bay based Tierra Construction Projects joined us for a live sand filled plastic bottle brick building demo, building one wall of the stage area, Cape Town artist Bianca Kirk gathered together the trash enough to make a whale sculpture, photographer Candice Mostert presented a disposable camera photography exhibition, and Miss Earth finalist Nayha Gautam presented the Trashion Show award to local Andrea Beukis with her plastic bag dress.

    I am glad to find your site here and thought that this project might be of interest to you!

    Please see the website at transgreyton.wordpress.com and contact me at joestodgel@gmail.com

    Joseph Stodgel

  6. Pingback: Discard Studies and the social science of garbage: Some preliminary reflections – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD

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