Waste generation has increased exponentially during the twentieth century and is projected to rise even further in the foreseeable future. In fact, there has never been an age which placed even remotely as much waste into the world as this. The reasons are manifold and may differ in detail between different areas, but they seem to include a combination of population growth, increasing incomes, changing purchasing and consumption habits, capitalist production cycles, and the availability of cheap fossil fuels and synthetic substances. A positive correlation between the Human Development Index and the per capita generation of municipal solid waste suggests that, there may be even more factors at play. Collectively, they are related to what is commonly considered “development.” It would not be difficult to make a case that the production of waste forms an integral component of global development.
However, at the same time, there is no easy definition of „waste.“ Depending on circumstances, the same material can function as useless garbage or industrial raw material, as dangerous organic waste or valuable fertilizer, as sub-quality material to be disposed of or perfectly edible food. On the other hand, some types of waste are highly toxic for humans as well as other beings and no useful purpose for them is in sight. Some, like radioactive waste, will remain dangerous to human health for millennia to come. Some forms change definition between countries or have repeatedly shifted categories over time, and these categorizations also tend to depend on circumstances related to the developmental state of technological, economic and/or social design.
This ambivalence makes waste a fascinating object of study, and in recent times, it has increasingly attracted the attention of historians, who have chosen very different concepts and contextualizations. Mary Douglas has famously defined dirt as “matter out of place,” treating waste as a constructed entity. Marco Armiero, by contrast, has highlighted its physical reality as he coined the concept of “wasteocene,” depicting a socio-economic system increasingly defined by its production of useless material. These approaches seem at the same time complementary and contradictory, as they highlight the different facets of waste, both its imagined and objective reality.
Researchers are invited to submit articles exploring these issues, including but not limited to these questions:
- Conceptualization: how has waste been defined at different times and places? How have these concepts changed over time? What have been the determinants of these constructions? What roles do concepts such as modernity, luxury, status, inefficiency play?
- Case studies: analyses of specific cases of waste management and the decisions, values, circumstances and consequences they involved.
- Inequality: how has socio-economic inequality played out in the generation and/or the disposal to waste, in short or long term perspectives?
- What experience is there with waste-reduction schemes such as recycling or zero-waste plans?
- Waste trade: what position does waste have within national and international trade? Who are the main actors? What have been the social, environmental and economic repercussions?
Posted on 07 Oct 2019
Posted on 17 Aug 2018