Waste Theory & Discard Studies

Waste Theory & Discard Studies

Here’s a list of 40 important texts for studying Waste theory or discard studies (ordered by date published):

1.    Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge.

2.    Thompson, M. (1979) Rubbish Theory: the creation and destruction of value. Oxford: Oxford University Press

3.    Appadurai, A. (1986) The Social life of things: commodities, in cultural perspective.

4.    Tanner, T. (1987) Scenes of Nature, Signs of Men. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Energy Recovery in literature – just postapocalyptic stories about running out of fuel?

I have started my research into a thesis chapter on Energy Recover as a way to manage waste, through the lens of American Literature. As I have started looking into books about the recovery of energy, whether this is violent or not, I have been overwhelmed by one thing: it seems to be that the literary representation of energy recovery does not centre around the possible energy recovery that the EPA desires, but an image of a postapocalyptic world which has run out of fuel. Therefore, the energy recovery is translated to finding an alternative fuel from waste, rather than using waste to generate energy, and thereby increasing its usefulness. Now, my aim in my research is to avoid a chapter on petrofiction (despite how fascinating it is, and having completed a up-and-coming module on it at Warwick University under Graeme Macdonald). This is only because petrofiction is only partly relevant to the matter of energy recovery from waste.

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How many books?!

I’m one year into my PhD. Did I think I would be reading book after book, blissfully unaware of time passing me by? Perhaps.

How many books have I read? 3.

PhD reading is not the relaxing, find-a-comfy-window-seat type of reading I have become accustomed to. I’ve quickly learnt that if you don’t want to waste an entire month of potential chapter writing… reading becomes about interrogation.

When I pick up a book – I immediately go to the back cover- “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” I hear you cry. I’m afraid it’s a must. Not only this, but vigorous google searching takes place. I MUST know this book is going to be useful before delving into it. I have learnt this the hard way. Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, was brilliantly entertaining. Will it end up in the bibliography? No it won’t. A month I’ll never get back.

ShipBreakerPaoloBacigalupi

 

Positive Violence and Recycling Waste

Positive Violence and Recycling Waste in late 20th Century American Literature. This is the provisional title of my PhD thesis, studied at the university of Hull under Jennie Chapman.

I want to speak a little bit about this title, and breaking down these terms.

Firstly, some definitions:

Waste: noun

  1. an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.
  2. unwanted or unusable materials, substances, or by-products

 

Recycle: verb

  1. to convert (waste) into reusable material
  2. to return to a previous stage in a cyclic process

The reasons that these definitions are important is as follows. Waste and recycling have an intrinsic correlation: increased accumulation of waste is the catalyst for increased recycling. Put differently, where recycling is a consequence of waste, waste is also a fuel for recycling. It is this dynamic that I argue produces something called “positive violence”.

I propose there is a new relationship occuring between waste and recycling in 20th century literature, due, in part, to the capitalist world that overrules it. This new relationship overturns the traditional hierarchy between material, waste, and recycling. When waste becomes seen as essential rather than useless, it causes the desire for unnatural and untimely production of waste.

I refer to this phenomenon as ‘positive violence’ – deliberating creating waste in the anticipation of recycling. This violence, in my definition, occurs both on the level of material waste and bodily waste.

This is the essence of my PhD thesis. The inspiration came from reading a quote by Tony Tanner in Scenes of Nature, where he identifies that the problem of waste has been long addressed in American literature. He argues that ‘from Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Pynchon to Don DeLillo, you can hear the doomed sense of America transforming its God-given plenitude to a heap of waste, which can neither be recycled nor disposed of’(9). In my thesis, I will argue that in these late 20th century novels, the bond between plenitude and waste does not follow Tanner’s model. By this time, it is impossible to see the ‘God-given plenitude’ Tanner pines for. And, what’s more, recycling becomes a clear reality; a way to solve the growing waste problem in America. This even extends to bodily waste, with the introduction of the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 1971 – the ‘body farm’ where ‘people lie on their backs or in the sun, or sometimes in the shade, depending on where the researchers put them’ (Roach 61).

In our society, recycling is a necessity and is encouraged as something positive. But could the novels of the twentieth century reveal that some recycling could be somewhat dangerous, leading to a cyclical trap where waste itself becomes the only fuel for new material?

Food for thought.