Ecologies of (Human) Waste

This year I participated in the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s virtual conference (#Distribute2020). The panel that I co-organized with Hemangini Gupta centered on the theme of “urban (re)distributions” and my presentation specifically examined how urban sanitation waste is processed and redirected into agricultural landscapes for use as a fertilizer and soil amendment in the contemporary US. You can read the abstract to my presentation below and watch the final version of it in the YouTube video above!

Toward a Tactical Anthropology: Creating Space for Reckoning with Ecologies of Waste

Tactical urbanism seeks to alter people’s orientation to public space through temporary interventions and DIY public installations, with the broader intention of reinvigorating common sense about the commons. In this presentation, I reflect on the possibilities of a tactical anthropology by examining a recent collaboration with students and colleagues in anthropology, architecture, and landscape architecture. In 2019, our project team created a temporary installation on Ohio State University’s main campus that featured an architectural pavilion made from recycled plastics, surrounded by a small field of corn grown in compost derived from treated sanitation waste. Through large format graphics, the installation invited passersby to reflect on the processes by which waste in urban ecosystems can be transformed into both agricultural and architectural resources. Rather than attempt to replicate the waste management systems under examination, the installation was framed as an experiment that invites direct sensorial engagement with human-produced wastes that are manifest in distinct forms and reconfigurations. Through reflection on the installation known as Privy2, this presentation raises questions about the limits and possibilities of such temporary and tactical interventions in late industrial urban spaces and what anthropology might offer to movements in tactical urbanism.

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