In this course, we examine varied ways in which waste has been understood – in terms of anthropology, political theory, postcolonial studies, political economy, and feminist theory. Waste is both a verb and a noun, and the term often carries moral or ethical undertones; time should not be wasted, neither should food nor material goods, and of course, life itself should not be wasted.
Waste is often understood as that which can be reduced or transformed through consumption or recycling. Waste can occasion disgust and outrage, but even if less acknowledged, also fascination, desire and pleasure. Time spent idle is often time considered “wasted.” Waste is also often understood as destructive. At the same time, waste has also been understood as a necessary byproduct of its opposites. Psychoanalysis has drawn attention to feces’ association with gold and the notion of the gift of waste in the formation of subjectivity. Political economy, postcolonial studies, anthropology and feminist theory have all addressed histories of abjection, notions of excrement, disposable populations, and the ways in which humans have dealt with literal waste and those materials and lives that become understood as waste. In this regard, understandings of waste have been central for notions of value, productivity, desire, cleanliness and filth, inside and outside, and of difference. Over the course of the term, we will consider the concept of waste through an examination of the related concepts of value, destruction and production, the environment, and the formation of what counts as human. Readings will include texts by Georges Bataille, Zygmunt Bauman, Norman Brown, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Shannon Lee Dawdy, Jacques Derrida, Mary Douglas, M. Drackner, Sigmund Freud, Gay Hawkins, Lewis Hyde, Franz Kafka, Julia Kristeva, Claude Levi-Strauss, Karl Marx, Marcel Mauss, Kathleen Millar, Robin Nagle, Gayle Rubin, and Susan Strasser.