What’s my take on this torrent of waste at ASEH? I think it really signals a maturation of a second generation of waste scholarship in environmental history that began in the early 2000s.
Toxics: A Symposium on Exposure, Entanglement, and Endurance was heralded as “the most important conversation on body burdens yet.” See the Twitter version of that conversation here.
Mining, as the human activity responsible for some of the planet’s most dramatic landscape transformations and the largest proportion of total industrial waste flows, is a particularly salient topic for considering the intersections of technology, economy, and discards in the Anthropocene epoch.
Landfills partake of multiple temporal scales, making them difficult to regulate and run. Taking into account multiple timescapes, or polychronicity, reveals the constitutive role of non-human beings and forces in waste management generally. As a result, political challenges to landfills are limited if they fail to recognize landfill landscapes as a polychronic and multi-species affair.
The leveraging of the temporal lag between the developed and the developing world by these local street vendors enables them to generate additional value from the discarded. Second-hand goods becomes the means to access the consumer society that is characteristic of global cities.
Drawing from long-term ethnographic research on a 25-year-old medical aid program linking the U.S. and Madagascar, I use this brief essay to trace how Malagasy and American participants engender different orientations to time through their work with discards, as they transform both discards’ value and the social relations surrounding them.
As the excesses, effluents, and excreta of larger social spheres are discarded, discounted, and possibly denigrated, what happens at those margins where they recirculate? What fissures in prevailing circulatory structures might we uncover, and how do people appropriate the myriad of social and material utility that persists therein? We explore the ways in which the materialities of waste, rubbish, refuse, debris, castoffs, and pollution enable new forms of sociality marked by generative practices of survival, adaptation, and critique.