ENVI 241
The Politics of Waste Spring 2020
Division II
Cross-listed ENVI 241 / PSCI 242

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Waste is not just a fact of life, it is a political practice. To create and maintain political order requires devising collective means to pile up, bury, burn, or otherwise dispose of stuff deemed dirty or disorderly: waste management is regime management. In turn, our feelings of disgust for anything deemed waste shape political deliberation and action on environmental policy, immigration, food production, economic distribution, and much more. The very effort to define “waste” raises thorny political questions: What (or who) is disposable? Why do we find the visible presence of certain kinds of things or persons to be unbearably noxious? How should we respond to the fact that these unbearable beings persist in existing, despite our best efforts to eliminate them? What is our individual and collective responsibility for creating and disposing of waste? Serious inquiry into waste is rare in political theory and political science–perhaps understandably, given that the study of politics is shaped by the same taboos that shape politics. In this seminar we will openly discuss unmentionable topics and get our hands dirty (sometimes literally) examining the politics of waste. We will take notice of the erasure of waste in traditional political theory and work together to fill these gaps. To do so, we will draw on work in anthropology, critical theory, history, urban studies, and waste management science; representations of waste in popular culture; and experiences with waste in our lives. This course is part of a joint program between Williams’ Center for Learning in Action and the Berkshire County Jail in Pittsfield, MA. The class will be composed equally of nine Williams students and nine inmates and will be held at the jail. An important goal of the course is to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. Transportation will be provided by the college. *Please note the atypical class hours, Wed 4:45-8:30 pm*
The Class: Type: Seminar
Limit: 9
Expected: 9
Class#: 4021
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: class attendance and participation, short essays, and a final paper
Prerequisites: not open to first-year students
Enrollment Preferences: final selection will be made on the basis of statements of interest solicited after pre-registration and interviews with the instructor
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ENVI 241 Division II PSCI 242 Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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