Dirty places: Geographies of waste

Crédits N. Ortar, décharge de Poimbout, Nouvelle Calédonie

We are putting together a special issue tentatively called : Dirty places: geographies of waste. Waste is a broad and multifaceted concept, always open to interpretation. We want to keep it that way, partly because we are looking for fresh voices, and partly because we wantto facilitate an interdisciplinary conversation. However, for clarity’s sake, waste is here defined as “material that we failed to use” (Gille, 2018). Gille’s succinct definition reads like an updated version of Mary Douglas’ (1966) classic take on “dirt” “matter out of place”, this time formulated under the banner of the Anthropocene. For a deeper look into the concept of waste, please read the following texts:

 Gille,Z., 2018. Of Fish Feces, Shamanic Bowls and Chimpanzee Scraps: Extension vsPrecision in the Concept of Waste. Worldwide Waste: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 1(1), p.2. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/wwwj.22

Reno, J.,2018. What is Waste? Worldwide Waste: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 1(1), p.1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/wwwj.

See also Nicholas Kawa’s blog post “Shit”:  https://culanth.org/fieldsights/843-shit

The main question we are asking is not so much what is waste but rather where do we find it and how do we make sense of such places. The answer might seem straightforward, and to some extent it is. Waste is found on the margins of modern space, in roadsides, landfills, sewers and the like. But still, the geography of waste requires reflection and debate. The problemwith it is that it’s never fully out of sight. And it smells, sometimes. Waste is offensive at the level of affect. It seems to be inherent to the modern condition, and admittedly it lends itself to hyperbole and scare tactics. Someyears before Henry Ford invented the Model T, academics and policy makers agreed that industrial cities were literally drowning in horse shit. Journalists, always quick to exploit people’s wants and needs and fears, celebrated the crisis with glee. Of course, cars generate a special kind of waste, far more penetrating and far more inscrutable and far more menacing than animal manure. But this crisis and this waste too might fade away in the twenty first century as oil supplies dwindle and China embraces the electric automobile.

The approach is materialist “from plastics and chickenbones to discarded bicycles-for-hire” although we are open to more metaphorical interpretations. We also welcome philosophical speculation “aren’t wasting time, and its correlate boredom, emotional dimensions of modern consumerism?” Finally, we also want to hear from historians and anthropologists, and we encourage submissions from scholars who specialize in regions other than Western Europe and the United States. The only requisite is that waste is investigatedin relation to a specific geography “a region, a country, a city, a street, a kitchen, a landfill, a river” or by connecting multiple locales intransnational fashion.

 In sum, we are seeking both empirical and theoretical studies, from the humanities and social sciences, that elaborate on the question of “waste” in relation to space and/or place.

Please send your proposals (approx. 300 words) & bio to jmt77@missouristate.edu

The deadline for proposal submissions is December 31st 2018.


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