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.
For the past several years, the graduate students of the Ohio State Department of Anthropology have produced A Story of Us, a podcast that is sponsored by the American Anthropological Association. Last semester, Emma Lagan interviewed me about my work as a cultural anthropologist and the episode is now available online. We talked about the early experiences that led me to anthropology and my research in Amazonia as well as my current work that examines how the city of Columbus converts human “waste” into an agricultural resource, known as biosolids. If you have a chance, take a listen. You can also explore earlier seasons from A Story of Us that draw on diverse perspectives and subfields in anthropology to see what they can teach such themes as childhood, migration, and mortality.
This weekend I’ll be presenting at the Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) Conference in Lexington, KY. Shreyas Sreenath (Emory U.) and I put together a double panel titled “Waste, Residuals, and Ruins: A Political Ecology of Excess.” Here’s the abstract:
“This panel takes a political ecological approach to the study of excess in late capitalism. Specifically, it investigates how excesses are created, manipulated, and reincorporated into productive systems, giving special attention to the ways that people creatively manage and repurpose waste. It also considers how capital accumulation in contemporary societies is hinged on particular discursive and material practices of wasting, and how technology is leveraged to address an accelerating accumulation of wastes. Lastly, this panel explores how the production and management of excesses can generate new international divisions in labor and reconstitute existing social hierarchies. Focusing our inquiries on the materials of everyday life—including human excrement, garbage, and demolished buildings—we argue that attention to capitalism’s excesses and wastes not only help us to understand the socio-ecological problems of the present, but also help to conceive of more productive common futures.”
If you’ll be at the conference, please stop by. Our first session will run from 10:30 to 12:10 in Room 231 of the ’90’ on UK’s campus. Session 2, in which I’ll present, will run from 1:30 to 3:10 in the same room.
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. Continue reading →