In the latest of issue of Edible Columbus, you can find an interview with me discussing the importance of microbial life for soil health, the benefits of night soil for agricultural production, and the need for building local models that can help us to contend with global climate change. Thanks again to Colleen Leonardi for the invitation. You can read it here.
I just completed revisions on an article titled “What Happens When We Flush?” that will appear in the September edition of Anthropology Now. You can read a pre-print version of it on my Academia.edu site. The article discusses how the modern flush toilet has perpetuated the illusion that human waste can be made to “disappear.” Examining the industrial origins of the flush toilet, I point out some of its problematic consequences as a model of sanitation in the contemporary world. Using examples from Pre-Columbian Amazonia and 19th century East Asia, I highlight alternative models of managing human excreta that have proven benefits for agricultural production, which might serve to reorient human relations to excrement in industrialized societies today.
I wrote a short essay titled “shit” that was just published on Cultural Anthropology’s website as part of their series Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen. Other additions to the lexicon include: carbon, heat, species, and zoonosis.
A brief teaser from my contribution: “The Anthropocene will offer many lessons for humanity, but one of its most jarring is that we simply can’t hide from our shit any more.”
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.