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What is trash and what is treasure? In what ways does value depend upon and necessitate waste, and how is the dialectic between the two inflected by culture? When we ‘throw away’ things at Williams College, where exactly do they go, and who handles them ‘down the line’? What are the local and global economies of waste in which we are all embedded and how are they structured by class, race, caste, gender and nation? In this seminar we critically examine the production of waste – both as material and as category – and its role in the production of value, meaning, hierarchy and the environment. Readings include ethnographic accounts of sanitation labor and social hierarchy; studies of the political and environmental consequences of systems of waste management in the colonial period and the present; and theoretical inquiries into the relation between filth and culture, including work by Mary Douglas, Dipesh Chakrabarty and Karl Marx. Geographically the foci are South Asia, Japan, and the United States. There is also a fieldwork component to the course. In (safe, socially distant) fieldtrips we follow the waste streams flowing out of Williams – to an incinerator, a sewage treatment plant, recycling and composting facilities and other sites – and students individually explore the everyday social life of waste in our communities.
Format: seminar; Hybridity is a beautiful and productive thing. Each week we will meet once for in-person seminar-style classes, virtual learners projected into the room with us. The other meeting each week will be either a fieldtrip (carefully designed with precautions, and with an individually-tailored alternative for virtual learners) or a synchronous virtual meeting with a guest speaker.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
regular posting of critical response papers, field notes on waste streams, research-based final paper
majors in ANSO, ENVI, ASST
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ENVI Humanities, Arts + Social Science Electives