The edited volume Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon, edited by Cymene Howe and Anand Pandian, was just published by Punctum Books and is available in pdf format FOR FREE (although Punctum does welcome donations). My contribution – simply titled “Shit” – can also be found in the original series published online by Cultural Anthropology.
This summer I’ve been working with students and colleagues in the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State to install a demonstration garden, titled “Privy2: Biosolids and You.” The project is designed to draw attention to the processes by which waste products are transformed into both agricultural and architectural resources. The garden is fertilized with Com-Til — a Class A biosolids product made by the City of Columbus — and planted with corn. The site will also feature an architectural pavilion constructed primarily of material derived from recycled plastics. You can follow our progress and learn more from the project website. You can also read this recent article that provides an overview of the project.
Last night, I had the chance to see Robin Nagle give a talk at Ohio Wesleyan University. The title of her presentation was “The Gift of Garbage: Ethnographic Curiosities of Waste, Value, and Infrastructure,” which drew from her on-going research with the Department of Sanitation in New York City. In the first half of the talk, she focused on understanding waste through anthropological theorizations of gift exchange, describing the contemporary production of garbage as “a passive form of competitive exchange” and a type of “inverted potlatch.” She shifted gears in the second part of her presentation, and asked us to help her solve a puzzle. She then showed us what she referred to as the “Molina Collection.”
Around 20 years ago, Nelson Molina, a New York City sanitation worker, began picking out items from the garbage that caught his eye. Eventually, Molina’s pickings developed into a veritable collection, a museum of sorts, that was housed in the Sanitation Department garage. Nagle shared images of the collection: rows of old polaroid cameras, dozens of furbies neatly aligned on shelves, old sports pennants, super hero dolls…a seemingly endless array of fascinating little things that told us about the history of New York and its people.