Detritivores are creatures that consume decaying matter. Detritivore designs use abundant waste products to make scalable technology solutions. Unlike loftier concepts of zero-waste design such as Cradle to Cradle, Detritivore design accepts that the world is already loaded with discarded and broken technology. Detritivore designers need not create a recyclable or even non-toxic product, since the materials already exist — we merely try to squeeze out whatever functionality objects may have left.
The Public Lab Spectrometry Kit is a detritivore design. It consumes waste products and uses them to search for other, more dangerous wastes. Pipe cutoffs, obsolete webcams, and optical discs are sufficient to make a functioning spectrometer. The central component, the diffraction grating, is made from CDs and DVDs, disposable media with extremely precise grooves. Long after the media written onto these discs decays into illegibility, they will still function as diffraction gratings, splitting light into a rainbow that can be quantified and used for material identification.
We’ve made spectrometer plans, sell kits, and have created Spectral Challenge, an X-Prize-style competition to identify environmental contaminants. We are dedicated to this project’s continuity, but with over 200 billion CDs and over 1 billion DVD players in the world, it is unlikely that we will ever run out of hardware. Our design patterns ensure that optical disc spectrometry can outlast any one project or manufacturer.
There are commercial diffraction gratings that we could use, and they would simplify the construction of our retail kits a little bit, but they wouldn’t significantly increase the accuracy of our device. Doing spectroscopy with consumer detritus is more important to our scientific program than simplifying our kits. We mail kits around the globe, but mail can’t reach all the places thatDVDs and CDs already have. Detritivore design affects the permanence of trash as a badge of hope rather than dismay; we need never worry about losing access to our science equipment. We’re developing a platform on top of ubiquitous trash, using its persistent nature to escape the ephemerality of the startup culture in which we design.
It is time to naturalize trash as a set of unique design materials valuable as more than just raw materials for new things or kitschy aesthetic references to previous eras. Reach into the trash can. Minimizing or eliminating non-reusable and non-biodegradable elements in designs is laudable, but we should put more effort into designing around the persistent functionality of objects whose primary purpose has failed. It’s time to stop hiding trash and start living in it,” studying it,”:http://discardstudies.wordpress.com/ and embracing the roughly 1 million pounds per person per year for the average North American creates.
Our dialogue on waste has shifted from disposal, displacement, and dilution towards minimization and elimination, but we need to move beyond a false hope that we will escape waste and towards an intimacy with our culture’s primary product: broken junk.
Mathew Lippincott is of the opinion that the future needs better instructions. An artist and designer working in technology development & education, he splits his time between creating low-cost science kits and restroom reform. A founding member of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab), and MDML design, Mathew’s recent life highlights include his Balloon Mapping Kickstarter being listed as one of the 10 best projects of 2012, MDML’s Sewer Catastrophe Companion being exhibited at the Center for Disease Control and approved by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, and developing signage for theBeacon Food Forest in Seattle.
Measurements are never mere faithful representations of nature, but have social and political origins and ramifications. In representational theory, measurement is ”the correlation of numbers with entities that are not numbers,” a process of transformation, translation, and even interpretation at the level of sampling and gathering data. What is selected for measurement and what is not, how measurements are standardized, what counts as an important unit of measure, and how measurements are used all have stakes for the systems of which they are part. This is as true in discard studies as it is other scientific and social scientific endeavors.
Per Capita waste measurements are a prime example. It is not uncommon to come across a statement like “Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day.” Per capita waste statistics are created by dividing the total weight of waste by the population of a given area, and give the impression that individuals are the main agents of waste. This both reinforces the popular myth that humans are inherently wasteful, and that waste in general is synonymous with post-consumer waste. Neither is true.
The vast majority of waste in the United States, and most developed countries, is industrial solid waste. It has more tonnage, and is more toxic, than municipal solid waste by a wide margin (MacBride). Per capita measurements of trash obfuscates the main agent of waste– even within municipal solid waste, which can contain commercial and construction & demolition waste, I would argue that waste is industrial rather than individual. Try not to make any waste for a week. It is nearly impossible, even for people like Beth Terry who dedicates massive amounts of time, energy, and research to reducing what she throws away. Her effort is heroic– not wasting is outside of everyday processes and possibilities because our food system, ability to clothe ourselves, communicate, and socialize come wrapped. Changes in per capita waste is often a measure of packaging trends rather than the (im)moral inclination to waste. As historians of waste know, disposability and waste is an industry tactic for saturating markets (see Vance Packard for a contemporary perspective on this strategy, which began in earnest in the 1930s).
Thus, per capita measurements, by interpolating individuals as agents of waste, politicizes measurement in the interest of industry by reproducing the myth of the wasteful human rather than calling out how humans in our society have become an inextricable part of a an industrial infrastructure of disposables and waste.
Previous Sewage Contamination (PSC) is a measure of waste that is self-consciously, willfully political. In the mid-nineteenth century, increased industrial activity and urbanization lead to the contamination of waterways used for public water supplies. Sewage, recently linked to several health epidemics, was of particular concern. Scientists were asked to determine whether a waterway was fit for consumption, but, in the professional opinion of Edward Frankland, a British water chemist for the Royal Institution, science was not always up to the task. Water analysis could not define the safety of water, chiefly because the presence and habits of germs, a new concept in the field, were largely unknown. Frankland believed germs could withstand filtration, chemical reagents, dilution, condensation, and other popular purification methods. Thus, even if a bacteriological test found no living germs in a sample, Frankland reasoned that a few germs may have survived purification and were just not present in the sample taken. These resilient germs could start an epidemic.
Thus, in 1867, Frankland introduced the concept of “previous sewage contamination,” or PSC, meant to represent the amount of sewage a river had received upstream. It was a number obtained by measuring the total amount of nitrogen compounds in a water sample, which in turn indicated the amount of organic material that had been in the water. This organic material could come from sewage or peat or other sources (science could not differentiate between them, and Frankland said the differentiation was “hygienically irrelevant”). PSC was meant to indicate whether there had ever been sewage in the water, and thus a potential health danger, regardless of whether the water had been purified.
In short, PSC was a metric used to advocate for a definition of safety that differed substantially from the status quo, which pushed for post-purification as the preferred technique of definition. Thus, PSC was an activist measurement. As a member of several Royal commissions on water quality, Frankland had the ability to instate PSC in water analysis reports received by Londoners. The idea was that citizens and other stakeholders would become disgusted, fearful, or enraged about the inevitable presence of “previous sewage contamination” in their water, and demand better water. Since PSC would be present in any purified source, as all local waterways were used as extensions of sewers and had other organic materials in them besides, “better water” would entail either changing the source of London’s water supply, or the legislated cessation of all sewage disposal into waterways. The latter was Frankland’s goal.
The reason to take measurements seriously is that quantitative work creates things. Per capita waste creates wasteful individuals and naturalizes an impotent course of action, while Previous Sewage Contamination creates pollution where before there was none. Activism is all about intervening in material conditions, and Franklin knew his judgement, expressed as a measurement, would be extrapolated off the page to make things happen in the world of things. Advocacy via measurement is not unique to activism–I would argue that per capita measurement is in the interest of industry, and it is not surprising to find that industry works to keep it as the measurement of choice in governance.
I believe that one of the unique abilities of scholars in the humanities and social sciences is to denaturalize such ontologies. Our job is to back up the truck and question the ground it stands on. In this case, we want to back construct the measurement to see where it came from and how the thing it purports to measure came to exist in the first place. This job is critical (in both senses of the term) because, as is evident from the examples, one of which is explicitly activist and the other which has high stakes for environmental action and blame, the quantification of characteristics into measurements has politics, and politics, to borrow Arjun Apparturi’s definition, is the set of relations, assumptions and contests pertaining to power.
Hamlin, Christopher. (1990) Edward Frankland: The Analyst as Activist
Law and Moser. (2006). Fluids or flows? Information and qualculation in medical practice
MacBride. (2012). Recycling Reconsidered
Star and Bowker. (1999). Sorting Things Out
Basurama (trash-o-rama), a non profit organization based in Spain, is preparing a public waste audit for MIT’s Media Lab Festival on April 20th. Their unique point of intervention that goes above and beyond a regular waste audit and the goal of quantification and classification of waste, is how to represent two tons of waste.
Basurama developed the graphic above to think through how they might display the waste after the audit. I’ve posted elsewhere about the logics of a theater of proof, a phrase coined by Bruno Latour in The Pasteurization of France, to describe the sudden manifestation of an otherwise invisible phenomenon legible to lay audiences. In a theater of proof, viewers can see the phenomenon under study in “black and white,” can understand it all at once as it becomes apparent in sensible, indisputable terms. This is the often goal of doing public waste audits (or at least it is for so many of my students who want to do such projects so people can “just see” all the waste they produce in their lives/dining halls/homes, and by doing so magically internalize the severity of the problem and change their behaviours).
Like most information visualizations, the problem Basurama is asking on their blog post about how to visualize two tons of waste is about the best practices of theaters of proof. How do we make such a theater? How can we arrange our raw materials as a sort of information landscape that makes the issue at hand apparent to lay audiences? How do we transform information, via this trash, into affective work for the viewer? How do we make the usually invisible, always heterogeneous, mashed up world of trash legible? How do we use aesthetics for intentional intellectual messages? What sort of things can trash say?
Personally and professionally, I am often concerned that tashy messages will reiterate popular mythologies about waste: that we, as individuals, make too much waste, when we, as individuals, have very little agency in the matter and are rather part of an infrastructure of waste. I would like to see a display of industrial vs. “personal” waste, where all the waste is in the former category and nothing is in the latter. The same could be done with systemic vs. unique waste, or waste generated in the pursuit of capital vs. that which is not (perhaps some community agricultural waste would end up in the latter pile). In short, I’m saying that Basurama’s step number 4, classification, is where the qualitative work of quantitative work comes in. Classification determines what will be proven in the theater of proof.
October 9 – 12, 2013
San Diego, California
Exploring the question of how to make environmental health hazards perceptible, we invite participation in an interdisciplinary hands-on, half-day workshop on emerging methods for environmental monitoring in science and technology studies. In particular we highlight methods that engage with critical making through art, design, and DIY practices. Taking the site of the conference as our space for investigation, we will use low-tech monitoring contraptions to investigate the environmental health of ourselves and our classroom and we will learn through experience about the epistemological potential of investigating everyday spaces for potential pollutants. This workshop will be linked to a panel entitled: Making Environmental Harm Manifest.
The workshop will have four parts:
1) Introduction: There will be a short introduction of pre-existing monitoring approaches from art, design, and DIY disciplines. This will build on the earlier Panel Presentation Making Environmental Harm Manifest connected to this workshop. This can include anything from infrared scanners hooked up to laptops to using our own bodies to adjudicate air quality.
2) Small group work implementing different investigation methods: groups will spend time creating an on-the-spot field guide to the room we are in, making its hidden elements manifest and open to interpretation using DIY, art, or design devices. Group members will then create a representation of their findings to share with other groups.
3) Roundtable Discussion: Participants will come together and present their findings to the group, and report back the experiences of using their devices to investigate their surroundings.
4) Documentation and Follow-up: Workshop organizers will document the proceedings and representations to create a full field guide for potential exhibition and/or publication.
If you have a monitoring device or a project idea you’d like to have groups experiment with in the workshop, please send a brief (3-6 sentence) expression of interest and description of the device, as well as a short 250-word bio or CV to co-organizers Max Liboiron firstname.lastname@example.org and Sara Wylie email@example.com by March 1, 2013. Please put “4S Workshop” in the heading. We will then submit our workshop to 4S. If the workshop is accepted, we will send out a call for participation in the workshop as a whole. Note that this is not yet the call to participate in the workshop as a device-user, but for people or groups who have devices for monitoring environmental health.
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Waste is inherently ambivalent. It is both worthless and the basis for a billion dollar, recession-proof industry, complete with cartels and multinational companies. Disgust with filth both reaffirms our identities and troubles us. But a plethora of contradictory terms and values is not what makes trash wicked. Waste is wicked because of its inextricable mix of social, economic, environmental, infrastructural, political and cultural factors at a variety of scales.
In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, two urban planners, wrote about a shift in urban planning from an ethos of efficiency to one that recognizes the complexity of problems that arise from open systems, particularly when these systems are both material and social in nature:
By now we are all beginning to realize that one of the most intractable problems is that of defining problems (of knowing what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition) and of locating problems (finding where in the complex causal networks the trouble really lies). In turn, and equally intractable, is the problem of identifying the actions that might effectively narrow the gap between what-is and what-ought-to-be.
Because open systems are made of and are part of other open systems, defining, locating, and intervening in a problem is not only difficult, but also impossible to do with complete acuity. Efforts to solve them are likely to lead to other problems, or at least affect other parts of related systems in unanticipated ways.
Rittel and Webber call these wicked problems: “We use the term ‘wicked’ in a meaning akin to that of ‘malignant’ (in contrast to “benign”) or ‘vicious’ (like a circle) or ‘tricky’ (like a leprechaun) or ‘aggressive’ (like a lion, in contrast to the docility of a lamb).” There is no way to draw a boundary around the edges of a wicked problem where the effects and causes of the problem, and the influence of proposed solutions, stops. Contradictory, shifting, complex, and ever-expanding circumstances in wicked problems often exceed both current knowledge and consensus, particularly because a “plurality of objectives [are] held by pluralities of politics” by different stakeholders, each with a different set of knowledges, standards, needs, and desires. The information needed to describe and solve a wicked problem is not available in advance because each wicked problem is essentially unique in its complexity and so has never been solved before.
Trash is one such problem. Waste is often defined as an personal shortcoming, a vice of individuals or of a class of people, which means that solutions are individual as well. Some even say that there has been waste since there has been humans, and it is natural/a necessary evil. In this case, solutions are always already mitigation. Others, like Vance Packard, see contemporary waste as a planned aspect of industrial capitalism, placing solutions in economic and regulatory realms. How a problem is defined directly affects which solutions are deemed possible, viable, and feasible. These are the stakes of defining wicked problems.
This semester, as part of my Environmental Communication class at NYU, my students and I wrote a pamphlet called “Best Practices of Defining Wicked Problems.” We hope it is of great use to those in discard studies, either as a framework for applied policy work, or as a reflexive tool that is “good to think with” for academics in critical studies.
We wrote the document by consensus. After an open discussion of what we wanted to write about, individuals could propose a sentence or paragraph. We then discussed any issues we had with the proposal, such as particular word choices and their implications, or what kind of work the writing did. Finally, we used hand signals to indicate that we were happy with the sentence, unhappy with it, or had a smaller issue with it. If any one person indicated either of the last two situations, we returned to the discussion phase and started over. This does not mean that everyone agreed to the same degree on every part of this pamphlet, but that we all agreed that we could move forward with the writing at every point. We used the first or last fifteen minutes of many classes to write this document, and spent an entire class period consensing on its final form. Feedback, forwarding, and questions welcome.
Have a wicked day.
Artist Christina Freeman began her MFA thesis project, Plums for Trash, by taking a suitcase full of odds and ends she didn’t need from New York City to outdoor markets throughout Sofia, Bulgaria. She traded her objects in these markets, often for objects that had been pulled out of the waste stream. She made this trash exchange trip twice. Now, she has brought these third generation discards back to the U.S and is trading them a final time in New York City at her MFA thesis exhibition beginning May 16th, 2012 (details below).
One of the New York City trades Freeman participated in was brokered by the Object Ethnography Project, a creative platform for researching the role of narration in the value, exchange, and circulation of objects. She took a Light from Dead Horse Bay and left behind the Top of a Bulgarian Taxi, which was in turn taken by someone else. The Object Ethnography Project works by using stories as currency for trade: anyone can donate an object with a story, and anyone can take an object if they tell a new story about it.
Freedman told a story about her project in order to take the Light from Dead Horse Bay:
I’ve never heard of Dead Horse Bay or Barren Island until today. When I first saw this rusted light fixture I thought it looked pretty strange and ugly. After reading the story I realize this is part of history with a story.
For the last year and half I have been working on a project trading trash (unwanted objects) with people for their unwanted objects. I started with my own things that I took to Bulgaria to collaborate on this project with my friend who works in the Roma community as a researcher on waste management. The description of Barren Island reminds me of the community where my friend does her research, a neighborhood where many people make a living from trash picking. I will be taking this light fixture back to Bulgaria in April and inviting people to trade for it.
She also left a story with the top of the Bulgarian Taxi:
This is the top of a Bulgarian Taxi. I received this in exchange for a pair of men’s shoes, which were given to me in exchange for a blue leather wallet. All of this trading took place in a flea market in Sofia. I took my own things that I didn’t need anymore in a suitcase and proposed trades with people in the market there.
The blue wallet was a Christmas gift from a student, whose parents were rumored to own the Empire State Building.
The Top of a Bulgarian Taxi was then taken by a couple living in New York, who told another story about it. They are currently looking for a new light to put in the taxi sign so they can mount it on their bicycle:
This light from a Bulgarian cab immediately caught my interest on a number of levels and I felt some of my stories of travel in Eastern Europe immediately merging with the original story. We traveled extensively in Romania 5 years ago and as is usual for us we made no plants other than a one-way flight to Bucharest. We left Bucharest for Sigashora with, as always, no accommodations. We arrived and just started meeting and talking to people and just figured all else would emerge. Within and hour we met someone living there who does work with the Roma people and serves as a human rights advocate on their behalf to the Romanian government. We ended up staying with friends of her family and exchanging numerous things.
We continued to travel like this all through the Carpathian mountains. We returned to Bucharest after three incredibly exhilarating but quite exhausting weeks. That evening included perhaps the craziest bus ride ever, which included a shirtless, very friendly bus driver who careened through busy evening streets at high, nearly out-of-control speeds.
This all leads to our intention to immediately travel to Bulgaria– I had already purchased our tickets to Istanbul via Bulgaria. But after the intense prior three weeks, and the prospect of hours on a crowded train, my wife just looked at me with eyes of sheer fatigue and said “I can’t do it.” I trained vainly to convince her otherwise but realized it just wasn’t in her.
Sooo- though we didn’t make it that time (and haven not made it yet) we have a little bit of Bulgaria on our home now, that I’m sure will eventually be passed on again sometime.
Both Plums for Trash and The Object Ethnography Project are praxis-based forms of research that use the circulation of discards to investigate value and the networks that create, sustain, and are sustained by them. Value is defined as “Worth or quality as measured by a standard of equivalence,” yet in both projects, equivalence is not determined ahead of time. The interaction between traders, either through their stories or in person, not only results in a trade that determines equivalency (a blue wallet for a taxi sign, a taxi sign for a story), but also creates a relationship that may or may not continue after the trade. This relationship is part of the valuation of the objects. Another definition of value is “worth based on esteem.” This esteem is both for the object and for the trader, and as such can include trust, charisma, familiarity, stories, and history. This is the crux of material culture work: it is not just material, and not just cultural, and the two cannot be separated during an analysis because both contribute to the phenomena or situation under study. Plums for Trash and the Object Ethnography Project, as material cultural laboratories, make this explicit. The Object Ethnography Project, in particular, will be publishing findings on how these networks create and maintain (or not) value both through in-person exchanges and via online communities.
You are invited to participate in Plums for Trash by bringing an object you no longer want, but that someone else might find valuable to the Hunter MFA Thesis Show, May 16-June 16, 2012, at Times Square Gallery, 450 W. 14th St, NYC 10036. The opening reception is May 16th from 6-8pm.
Gallery hours are 1-6pm Tuesday through Saturday, and Christina Freeman will be available for trading on Fridays, Saturdays, and by appointment (please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested).
You can participate in the Object Ethnography Project by donating or requesting an object. Details are here.
One of the joys of being a discard scholar is that our objects of study can be so insistent they challenge disciplinary methodologies. In an earlier post, I wrote that because trash is “inherently contested, multiple and fragmented… discard scholars need methodologies that don’t tidy up the mess and make trash one kind of stable, universal thing, described and solved forever.”
Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather take this methodological challenge up in geography. They followed e-waste, and though, “We thought we’d end up in dump sites… we actually ended up in production sites.” The literature had prepared them for a dump, but in the end, they wound up at a wedding.
Lepawsky and Mather use e-waste to illuminate a theory of boundaries and edges rather than staying with the more traditional concept of beginnings and endings. They found that boundaries and edges were more appropriate to describe the material relational effects of people, things, researchers, places pertaining to e-waste. This way, instead of starting at a recycling bin in Canada and ending at a recycling depot in India, they followed their objects past and through processes that turned e-waste into something else. “Now e-waste, now jewellery, now love, now a wedding.” Lepawsky and Mather’s work looks different than what traditional commodity chain research because their beginnings and endings are not known ahead of time.
Scholars rarely explicitly consider the temporal aspects of research (beyond “finding time” to do it). When I took my methodology courses, no one brought up how to know when to stop a train of thought or cease following an object of study. Because modern waste, and particularly the heavy metals and plastics in e-waste, last thousands of years and travel thousands of miles, the temporal and geographical questions of research must become central to our studies.
The video above is based on the following article: Lepawsky J and Mather C. 2011 From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste Area 43 242–249.
Lepawsky has a new article forthcoming in Geoforum on “Legal geographies of e-waste legislation in Canada and the US: Jurisdiction, responsibility and the taboo of production.”
Electronic waste (e-waste) is thought to be the fastest growing segment of the overall solid waste stream in many countries. Between 2003 and 2010 more than half of all Canadian provinces and US states passed legislation specifically to govern the disposition of e-waste. The purpose of this research is to investigate the legal geographies of this legislation. The principle findings are that the work of jurisdiction around e-waste in Canada and the US places financial responsibility for waste management on consumers not producers. Thus, contra the explicit intent of e-waste legislation, a regime of extended consumer, rather than producer, responsibility is emerging and waste generated as a result of design and manufacturing decisions remains taboo. But the implications of the legislative governance of e-waste go beyond questions of regulatory success or failure. At stake in the legislative governance of e-waste is the assembling of the social in a legal way that generates distributions of action that are democratized only so long as they limit public decision making to waste already produced and marketized only so long as they extend the ability of manufacturers, e-waste recyclers, and paramarket organizations to appropriate value. The work of jurisdiction around e-waste suggests jurisdiction can be more multiple, distributed, and patchy than prevailing theory allows.
Josh Lepawsky is Associate Professor and Charles Mather is Head of Department both at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
Stewardship Treaties for Barren Island
an exhibit and workshop about waste, artifacts, care, and time
Sunday, May 6, 3:00-4:30pm
From the 1850s until its last inhabitants were forcibly evicted in 1936, Barren Island was a community built on trash. It housed both the stinking rendering plants and disenfranchised inhabitants who processed waste from Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Today, the detritus of what was once Barren Island litters the shores of Deadhorse Bay in south Brooklyn. The area has been designated a protected historical site, but without financial support to secure the area, thousands of New Yorkers flock to scavenge its shores every year.
Stewardship Treaties for Barren Island is an art-artifact piece where objects that have been collected from scavengers will be entrusted to stewards of the history and culture of Barren Island. Any member of the public can become a steward by co-writing a stewardship contract, or Treaty, that designates the terms of care. The terms of these Treaties are open, but they must include plans to care for the artifact for the next two hundred years, and they must maintain some sort of public access given that the artifacts are part of the heritage of many New Yorkers and belong to the commons.
This project is being supported by Trade School, and is limited to 15 participants. Sign up to participate here: http://tradeschool.coop/newyork/class/#237
Stewardship Treaties for Barren Island is designed to make people think about the longevity of discards, especially in contrast to time frames we are more comfortable with. The project also highlights the ambivalent nature of discards as trash and treasures mediated by history and time.
The Gowanus Canal, the newest Superfund site within New York City’s borders, is also home to many of Brooklyn’s transfer stations, recycling depots, and a couple of re-use businesses. The area is run-down, but densely inhabited. It is a nexus of waste and life. A project at the Observatory takes the discarded objects around the Gowanus Canal as a starting point for a new type of museum that showcases the mundane and everyday as a way to represent the area.
March 3 – April 22, 2012
543 Union St.
*Progress Party showcasing the evolved work of the Pop-Up Museum: 8:00 PM, Friday April, 6th.*
A museum’s mission involves the categorization, preservation, and contextualization of objects within a finite space. The Pop-Up Museum is designed to function as the inverse of these practices, bringing together a set of local, “unremarkable” objects that then become art or serve as a springboard for art that references them.
Through the playful contextualization and re-contextualization of these objects, we will redefine the museum—both what a museum looks like, physically, and what it does, culturally.
Specifically, we will work with found materials from all around the Gowanus neighborhood to create a new “history” of the region and its traditions (a not entirely serious one).
As a collective, we will plow through a century of objects in order to remix in miniature the Gowanus, Observatory, and the whole enterprise of the museum—the whole enterprise of producing, categorizing, and showing off knowledge. Quick, fast, and dirty, the Pop-Up Museum presents the unpresentable: change itself.
The “art on the walls” for this show will thus consist of:
1. input – gathering of information, data, narratives, knowledges, magics, magnetisms, and (overlooked) curiosities from the physical space around Observatory
2. process – generation of media, drawings, recordings, photos, video, writing, and data analyses
3. output – a series of mixed-media art-objects, a book, a series of records, miniDV tapes, presentations, workshops, sound walks, magical fieldtrips, historical jaunts
All of these, not one of these, will become the art of the Pop-Up Museum…
Ethan Gould, Wythe Marschall, Rob Peterson, Lindsey Reynolds
Adrian Agredo, Stephen Aubrey, Grace Baxter, Emi Brady, Ted Enik, Ben Garthus, Nandini Nessa, Megan Murtha, Rob Parker, Kathryn Pierce, Oberon Redman, Nikki Romanello, Mike Rugnetta, Tim Schwartz, Jon Waldo
Reposted from Material Culture.
A new themed volume on ‘Disease avoidance: from animals to culture‘ in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences provides some food for through when read against Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger. Douglas insists that we not read food taboos and other cleanliness rituals as medical-materialistic (ie, Jews don’t eat pork because of the pig’s ambiguous place in the animal kingdom at the time Leviticus was written, not because of intuitive notions of Trichinosis). This edited volume does just that. It looks at a broad range of disease-avoidance and treatment behaviors such as avoidance, grooming, quarantine, medicine, stigmatization, the emotion of disgust and care of the sick in terms of medical materialism. Yet it also also theorizes cultural change through disease avoidance, disgust, and stigmatization:
“Disease burden may be a powerful and relatively unrecognized force in human cultural evolution. Historically, emotions such as disgust and fear have been co-opted for broader goals—such as promoting bodily hygiene and the use of soap in the early twentieth century , for campaigns against smoking, and more recently against fatty and sweet foods. Unfortunately, this process of moralization, which involves yoking the emotion of disgust to particular behaviours or groups of individuals (e.g. smokers), has also been used for malicious political ends by labelling particular ethnic groups as lice or vermin, for example.” (From the Introduction)
I invite readers interested in the social and cultural aspects of “dirt,” disgust, and stigmatization to read this volume. Lately, I have been trying to reconcile Mary Douglas’ work with more overtly physiological-material definitions and understandings of dirt, pollution and the taboo. Medicine, pollution engineering, toxicology, and evolutionary biology all propose different notions of material-human relationships than Douglas’ “matter out of place,” to the effect that some nuance her work, some can be explained by it, and others negate it. I look forward to any comments or guest posts that do the same.
Table of Contents for ‘Disease avoidance: from animals to culture‘
“Proactive strategies to avoid infectious disease“
Richard J. Stevenson, Trevor I. Case, and Megan J. Oaten
“Infection before pregnancy affects immunity and response to social challenge in the next generation”
Olivia Curno, Tom Reader, Alan G. McElligott, Jerzy M. Behnke, and Chris J. Barnard
“Mate preferences and infectious disease: theoretical considerations and evidence in humans”
Joshua M. Tybur and Steven W. Gangestad
“Brain–immune interactions and the neural basis of disease-avoidant ingestive behaviour”
Gustavo Pacheco-López and Federico Bermúdez-Rattoni
“Contamination sensitivity and the development of disease-avoidant behaviour”
Michael Siegal, Roberta Fadda, and Paul G. Overton
“Disease avoidance as a functional basis for stigmatization”
Megan Oaten, Richard J. Stevenson, and Trevor I. Case
“Disgust: the disease-avoidance emotion and its dysfunctions”
Graham C. L. Davey
“Parasite stress promotes homicide and child maltreatment”
Randy Thornhill and Corey L. Fincher
“Why disgust matters”