Histories of the Dustheap
Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The MIT Press
Title Page, Copyright
As is well known, books are actually group projects, in spite of the single or few names that appear on their covers. We felt this collaborative spirit especially at work in the crafting of this book, and so we feel grateful to all the contributors, whose superb essays, openness to the collaborative...
Introduction: Histories of the Dust heap
In 2007, a flotilla of what are commonly called rubber duckies arrived on Britain’s beaches. Like most mass-produced cheap toys, they were not rubber but rather plastic. They, along with their plastic frog, turtle, and beaver companions (approximately twenty-nine thousand toys all told) were produced...
I. The Subjectivities of Garbage
1. Darker Shades of Green: Love Canal, Toxic Autobiography, and American Environmental Writing
Like a recurring nightmare, Robinson Kelly vividly recalls the toxic morning of July 16, 1979, when waves of polluted water poured down the Puerco River near Church Rock, New Mexico. “I didn’t know what was going on but it was an ugly feeling,” he told the Navajo Times at a rally commemorating...
2. “The Most Radical View of the Whole Subject”: George E. Waring Jr., Domestic Waste, and Women’s Rights
Historians of the US obsession with cleanliness might well find in the popular 1885 advice manual How to Drain a House: Practical Information for Householders by George E. Waring Jr. ample evidence of the near hysteria that at times accompanied calls for improved domestic hygiene in the late...
3. Enviroblogging: Clearing Green Space in a Virtual World
In April 2010, Discover magazine ran a story called “Museum-Worthy Garbage: The Art of Overconsumption” showcasing a group of artists who call attention to “the scale of our collective daily consumption and waste” by “gathering up the trash that washes up on beaches and digging through their...
II. The Places of Garbage
4. Missing New Orleans: Tracking Knowledge and Ignorance through an Urban Hazardscape
Dirt and waste are close cousins. Or are they? Although we may consider them roughly interchangeable as linguistic tropes, the ontological status of dirt and waste are worlds apart. If waste is inert matter, dirt—or more properly soil—teems with life; it is “a dynamic system that responds to changes in the...
5. What Gets Buried in a Small Town: Toxic E-Waste and Democratic Frictions in the Crossroads of the United States
Nothing is ever truly buried, especially not garbage. The ritual of toxic waste burial serves only as a transitional phase—one that rears its ugly head periodically as cleanup technologies fail, contaminated bodies show signs of illness, and impacted communities begin to ask related public health questions...
6. The Garbage Question on Top of the World
Under the intense conditions of extreme atmosphere and topography as well as media scrutiny, Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has become an overdetermined icon of the sort that makes it difficult to distinguish between what is “natural” and “cultural” about its identity and status. Of course...
III. The Cultural Contradictions of Garbage
7. Purification or Profit: Milwaukee and the Contradictions of Sludge
In 1927, the Milwaukee Sewerage Commission took to the airwaves to publicize an “epoch making achievement.” “For the first time in the history of sanitation,” the radio broadcast claimed, “the valuable plant food elements contained in sewage and trade wastes are being converted into a marketable...
8. The Rising Tide against Plastic Waste: Unpacking Industry Attempts to Influence the Debate
The recently discovered plastic “blob,” a continent-size patch of garbage composed mainly of plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean, is a wake-up call for our modern consumptive society. It highlights the fact that much of the world’s discarded plastic is not actually reused or recycled. Rather, it ends up...
9. Time Out of Mind: The Animation of Obsolescence in The Brave Little Toaster
Since the 1970s, garbage—the visible remains of individual acts of consumption— has been one of the most recognizable public faces of environmental destruction. The target of public service announcements and government programs, from the US Forest Service’s classic call to “Give a Hoot, Don’t...
Conclusion: Object Lessons
Each of the works collected in this volume confirms the insight articulated by John Scanlan (2005, 14–15), who writes in On Garbage that “the act of conceptualizing garbage actually transforms it into something else.” By meticulously sifting through the various material and symbolic work done by garbage...
About the Contributors