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Histories of the Dustheap

Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice

Stephanie Foote
Elizabeth Mazzolini
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Histories of the Dustheap
    Book Description:

    Garbage, considered both materially and culturally, elicits mixed responses. Our responsibility toward the objects we love and then discard is entangled with our responsibility toward the systems that make those objects. Histories of the Dustheap uses garbage, waste, and refuse to investigate the relationships between various systems--the local and the global, the economic and the ecological, the historical and the contemporary--and shows how this most democratic reality produces identities, social relations, and policies. The contributors first consider garbage in subjective terms, examining "toxic autobiography" by residents of Love Canal, the intersection of public health and women's rights, and enviroblogging. They explore the importance of place, with studies of post-Katrina soil contamination in New Orleans, e-waste disposal in Bloomington, Indiana, and garbage on Mount Everest. And finally, they look at cultural contradictions as objects hover between waste and desirability, examining Milwaukee's efforts to sell its sludge as fertilizer, the plastics industry's attempt to wrap plastic bottles and bags in the mantle of freedom of choice, and the idea of obsolescence in the animated film The Brave Little Toaster. Histories of the Dustheap offers a range of perspectives on a variety of incarnations of garbage, inviting the reader to consider garbage in a way that goes beyond the common "buy green" discourse that empowers individuals while limiting environmental activism to consumerist practices.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30569-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Histories of the Dust Heap
    (pp. 1-18)
    Elizabeth Mazzolini and Stephanie Foote

    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 by the same manufacturer, and had been adrift for fifteen years after a container on the ship carrying them overturned in 1992. Over the years the ducks and their friends visited Hawaii, floated along the coast of Alaska to the Bering Strait, and made their way through the Arctic Ocean to Iceland and New England....

  5. I The Subjectivities of Garbage

    • 1 Darker Shades of Green: Love Canal, Toxic Autobiography, and American Environmental Writing
      (pp. 21-48)
      Richard Newman

      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 theNavajo Timesat a rally commemorating the event. “I went to work and found out the dam broke.” The cracked dam, owned by United Nuclear Corporation, spewed ninety-four million gallons of mining refuse, including eleven hundred tons of uranium waste, along eighty miles of river way. It was “the single largest release of radioactive...

    • 2 “The Most Radical View of the Whole Subject”: George E. Waring Jr., Domestic Waste, and Women’s Rights
      (pp. 49-72)
      William Gleason

      Historians of the US obsession with cleanliness might well find in the popular 1885 advice manualHow to Drain a House: Practical Information for Householdersby George E. Waring Jr. ample evidence of the near hysteria that at times accompanied calls for improved domestic hygiene in the late nineteenth century. From the handbook’s prefatory remarks, ominously titled “Our Enemy the Drains”—in which Waring (1885, iii) declares that “the drains in average modern houses are probably the most serious and prevalent enemies with which struggling humanity has to contend”—to the volume’s repeated insinuation that dirt and decay threaten to...

    • 3 Enviroblogging: Clearing Green Space in a Virtual World
      (pp. 73-94)
      Stephanie Foote

      In April 2010,Discovermagazine 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 own garbage cans” in search of material to transform into art. Featuring photographs of work ranging from pointillist-inspired “paintings” made of scavenged aluminum cans to wreaths made of gaudy bits of discarded plastic, the article also includes brief statements from the artists about their choice to use postconsumer waste as a creative medium....

  6. II The Places of Garbage

    • 4 Missing New Orleans: Tracking Knowledge and Ignorance through an Urban Hazardscape
      (pp. 97-118)
      Scott Frickel

      Dirt and waste are close cousins.¹ 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 environment” (Montgomery 2007, 13). Indeed, “waste” that contains life, as in my backyard compost bin, is not waste at all but rather a part of this dynamic system, on its way to becoming dirt. If waste is that which is little valued, moreover, dirt is perhaps humanity’s...

    • 5 What Gets Buried in a Small Town: Toxic E-Waste and Democratic Frictions in the Crossroads of the United States
      (pp. 119-146)
      Phaedra C. Pezzullo

      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. Remembering what we have buried, therefore, remains a critical act for rebuilding more democratically just and environmentally sustainable relations. To help foster such critical memory work, this chapter explores the historical specificity of one community’s garbage culture as it relates to one toxin. By foregrounding culture in this account, I aim to mobilize...

    • 6 The Garbage Question on Top of the World
      (pp. 147-168)
      Elizabeth Mazzolini

      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, Mount Everest is not unique for mixing the natural with the cultural; it is only unique in the particular ways in which nature and culture blend there. Indeed, especially since William Cronon’s edited collection of nature-culture studiesUncommon Groundwas published in 1996, humanistic environmental scholars have found it difficult to...

  7. III The Cultural Contradictions of Garbage

    • 7 Purification or Profit: Milwaukee and the Contradictions of Sludge
      (pp. 171-198)
      Daniel Schneider

      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 fertilizer.” The Milwaukee fertilizer project was “being watched in all parts of the world,” the commission declared (quoted in How Fertilizers Help 1927). This was not hyperbole. Sanitary scientists internationally were paying rapt attention to Milwaukee’s experiments in turning sludge into fertilizer, for they revived hopes held since the early days of sewage treatment...

    • 8 The Rising Tide against Plastic Waste: Unpacking Industry Attempts to Influence the Debate
      (pp. 199-226)
      Jennifer Clapp

      The recently discovered plastic “blob,” a continent-size patch of garbage composed mainly of plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean, is a wakeup 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 as waste: disposed of in landfills, swirling in the ocean and other waterways, caught in trees, and littering roadsides. Plastics do not break down readily in the environment. The persistent presence of plastic waste in our surroundings, from local communities to the global commons, is a stark reminder of the...

    • 9 Time Out of Mind: The Animation of Obsolescence in The Brave Little Toaster
      (pp. 227-252)
      Marisol Cortez

      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 Pollute!” to the Texas Department of Transportation’s ongoing “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign, postconsumer waste exists within the dominant environmental imaginary as an object of contempt and loathing—something that from an early age, we learn to regard as morally and politically abhorrent.

      One of the well-documented downsides of this affective relation to waste is...

  8. Conclusion: Object Lessons
    (pp. 253-260)
    Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini

    Each of the works collected in this volume confirms the insight articulated by John Scanlan (2005, 14–15), who writes inOn Garbagethat “the act of conceptualizing garbage actually transforms it into something else.” By meticulously sifting through the various material and symbolic work done by garbage, the chapters reimagine what culture looks like when its most despised category becomes central and foundational. Each of the contributors has, in the process of historicizing and examining the categories of garbage and waste, transformed them into both objects of inquiry and the grounds from which to illuminate how other key historical...

  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 261-262)
  10. Index
    (pp. 263-292)
  11. Series List
    (pp. 293-295)