“In the end, the biggest problem with green consumerism may be that it acts as a smokescreen, creating the impression that people are taking environmental issues seriously while allowing them to continue their lives as usual.” Lee and English 2011
While promoting the sales of building products for the construction industry, the greenproducts website features a seal that reads “Green America: Approved for People and Planet.” At buygreen.com the consumer finds an emblem that reads “1% for the planet.” The web-surfing consumer finds a wide array of specialty products for the home and the self at buygreen.com; choices vary from the ‘wooden utensil picnic pack’ to the fashionable ‘ceramic closed spiral earings.’ These sites and numerous others (a simple google search for green products yielded over 1,000,000,000 results) encourage consumers to buy more things and promote the conception that we can save the planet and be environmental while still having a highly intensified level of consumerism. But how “green” are many of these purchasing acts and can we really be making an environmental difference without changing how we live and the amount of energy and resources we consume? What on earth is this green moment we are told we are living in?
Justin Gillis, writing for The New York Times last week reported that “The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone…reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years. Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.”
Affixing seals and emblems such as “Green America” and “1% for the planet,” are oftentimes contradictory. They contribute to greenwash — marketing techniques used to make the public feel better about their unchecked consumption and waste habits. Marcus Linder, in his article for The Centre for Business Innovation, writes that “there are many benefits to be gained for a firm by marketing its offers and brands as green.” While this may be true, I would argue that the emblems found on popular green product websites — and on product packaging — actually distract the buyer from the reality of the environmental consequences of producing goods (and climate change) by promoting an ethic of consume what you wish as long as it carries our tag. Green consumerism is usually anything but green. What makes most sense is to look past the veil of marketing, to challenge our own routines, and to think about (and act on) how we consume and waste.
There’s an interesting call for projects looking for “the most innovative projects in which repairability plays a significant role in the world.” It is a call for the converse of discard and disposability.
From the site: There is a growing demand for longer lasting objects, things that are no longer destined to die the first time they break.
In the very moment in which a spontaneous bottom-up movement has taken steps to put the focus back on repair as opposed to replacement, industry has to rethink the real life cycle of products. Durability and repairability stop being mere functional issues: they impact the sphere of values we apply to evaluate product quality.
An invitation to redesign production standards, but also our cultural relationship with objects.
For the culture of design and production, all this represents a challenge that can lead to innovation.
The projects can be by individual designers, companies, or groups; makers of innovation are surveyed, with the only prayer to always underline the name of the author of the innovation.
We are looking for:
accessible, simplified, easy to be assembled and disassembled products, updating or adapting projects for industrial products, reconditioned garments, spare parts strategies and programs of post-sales assistance, repairability technologies, re-healable materials, new aesthetics, repair kits, web platforms, DIY 2.0, easy-to-use repair instructions and manuals, architectural refurbishment of the built, photographic reportages, social and territorial programs for the promotion of an economy based on durability and repairability, towards an innovative relationship with objects.
Name of the author, profession, age at the time of the project. Title of the project. Year. Company. Link to site of project/product + link to video (if available).
Description of the characteristics of the project and its innovative content.
Max 100 words.
Images in jpg or png format, 72 dpi and 800 pixel. Max 5 images.
The information should be submitted in English or Italian. Attachments must not be larger than a total of 6MB. Projects, data and credits for each project are submitted under the sole responsibility of the sender. When the survey has been completed, each author will be informed about the use of material submitted.
The verb “to repair”, from the Latin reparare, indicates the possibility of restoring to good condition, but also that of fixing a mistake and, to shift the accent, of defending (shielding, sheltering), namely protecting something precious to us.
Since at least the publication of Silent Spring, scientists, policy-makers, and the general public has focused on pollution in the environment as the object of regulation and control, a source of fear and anxiety, and the subject of scientific testing. As technologies, analytical detection limits, and eco-populist, anti-toxic movements have developed over the decades, scrutiny has increasingly turned to the pollution in the body, captured by the notion of a “body burden:” the presence of industrial chemicals or radiation in the body. Body burdens become legible through practices of biomonitoring, and sometimes through claims of biocitizenship – through which life becomes the basis for making demands on the state (Murphy 2008, Petryna 2002).
This panel seeks to bring scholars into a conversation on the history of the concept of body burdens and the practices of biomonitoring. In particular, how has notion of a body burden challenged or remade older scientific, legal, and policy frameworks on pollution, encouraged new understandings of the porosities of bodies, and altered the everyday experience of toxic risk and ambiguity? Synthetic chemicals in bodies raise questions about the assumed boundaries between bodies and environments, between industrial and personal spaces, and between “matter out of place,” “matters of course” and “matters of concern” in an environment saturated with industrial processes. The concept of body burdens also raise questions about the relationship between exposure and harm, the nature of informed consent, and vulnerabilities within heterogenous populations. The practices of biomonitoring can enable the democratization of knowledge of environmental toxicity but also the individualization of risk – particularly in the absence of effective state regulation of industrial chemicals. Finally, given that all humans now carry some form of body burden, notions of health and safety premised on acute exposures are shifting to notions of chronic exposure, though this shift is occurring unevenly across stakeholder groups (Kai 1994).
We are seeking 10-15 minute presentations for the American Society for Environmental History conference in San Francisco, March 12-16th.
Topics may include:
- the history of the concept of body burdens
- Maximum Permissible Doses and No Observable Adverse Effect Levels
- competing concepts of bodily pollution
- how harm, vulnerability, and risk have been articulated in relation to body burdens
- activism and imaging around body burdens
- the legal status of interior pollution
- techniques, efforts, and failures to correlate exposure to harm
- the rise of occupational health and its relation to civilian exposure to industrial chemicals
- body burdens and the Cold War
- animal versus human body burdens
- the implications of different materialities of body burdens, such as radiation vs. endocrine disruptors
- the role of metabolism
- humans as industrial sinks
- race, class, gender and body burdens
* Please forward to potentially interested parties*
Erikson, Kai. 1995. A New Species of Trouble. W. W. Norton & Company.
Murphy, Michelle. “Chemical regimes of living.” Environmental History 13, no. 4 (2008): 695-703.
Petryna, Adriana. 2002. Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl. Princeton University Press.
Via Reid Lifset, editor of Journal of Industrial Ecology (JIE):
Over the past two decades governments around the world have been experimenting with a new strategy for managing waste. By making producers responsible for their products when they become wastes, policy makers seek to significantly increase the recycling-and recyclability-of computers, packaging, automobiles, and household hazardous wastes such as batteries, used oil motor, and leftover paint-and save money in the process.
This strategy, known as extended producer responsibility (EPR), is the subject of a new special feature in Yale University’s Journal of Industrial Ecology. The special feature examines the use of EPR across diverse scales-from countries to provinces and states-and investigates work underway in the U.S., the European Union, Canada, China, Brazil and the State of Washington. The application of EPR to e-waste is a particular focus of the research in the special feature.
The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, owned by Yale University, published by Wiley-Blackwell and headquartered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Articles in the special feature are freely downloadable for a limited time at: http://jie.yale.edu/EPR
Partial support for this special feature was provided by Nestle Waters North America with additional funding from Reverse Logistics Group Americas LLC.
“When I got to get the stuff in the bucket, first I go down the far left edge of the pile, dump it in. Then I go down the far right side of the pile, dump it in. Then I go down the middle. So everything fits in the back of the truck, all even.”
“Yes! That’s coordinating movement, space, and energy. Dance.”*
The conversation above takes place between a sanitation worker in Austin, Texas, and choreographer Allison Orr in the excellent documentary Trash Dance, directed by Andrew Garrison. The film shows Orr’s process of putting together a choreographed “dance” of dump trucks, trash bins, and sanitation workers based on their everyday movements and talents.
The story is excellent not only because of the behind-the-scene views of Austin’s sanitation infrastructure via Orr’s month of preliminary ride-along with waste workers. Rather, the interviews with sanitation workers and the progression of the project from one of indifference, suspicion and disbelief on their part, through the slow buy-in, and finally to the display of comradery, talent, dedication, and somewhat ad hoc beauty is the center of the documentary. While the three-minute solo with the mechanical crane set to classical music is beautiful in itself, it is the interview with the huge African American sanitation worker declaring that he had to be in the show because he was the best damn crane operator in the city, and asking himself “how am I going to make this machine romantic?” that makes the movie. As one sanitation worker puts it, “The thing about this project is, we go from being just a bunch of nameless trash haulers to being Anthony, and Drew, and Ian.”*
In this way, Trash Dance is similar to the work done by New York City’s unique artist-in-residence and anthropologist-in-residence. In fact, Robin Nagle, DSNYC’s anthropologist-in-residence was one of the panelists after a viewing of Trash Dance in DUMBO. Along with the director and a NYC retired sanitation worker, the panel tended to be about telling stories about the day to day work and everyday workers that keep the city clean. These stories had the same kind of e/affect as the documentary. The differentiation of a massive work force into unique individuals doing a valuable job is reflected in both Robin Nagle’s new book, Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, and in artist-in-residence Meirle Laderman Ukeles‘ famous performance piece Touch Sanitation, where she individually shook the hand of every sanitation worker in the city over a two year period. It would seem that cultural workers introduced into waste infrastructure have a similar mission that I haven’t seen achieved by many other means. Cultural production via the humanities is a kind of methodology of respect and storytelling for which sanitation is a rich canvas.
You can see the film streamed from the official Trash Dance website for a limited time. There are also screenings in:
April 26-May 2 | The reRun Theater | Brooklyn NY
May 3-9 | Violet Crown Cinema | Austin TX
May 5 | Dance Camera West @ Annenberg Beach House | Los Angeles CA
May 17 | 14 Pews | Houston TX
June 22 | Northwest Film Forum | Seattle WA
July 13-14 | FilmBar | Phoenix AZ
July 12-18 | Gateway Film Center | Columbus OH
*All quotes are based on recollections of dialogue after viewing the film and are not verbatim.
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
TUESDAY, APRIL 23
4:00 – 6:00
MANHATTAN 3 SANITATION GARAGE
South Street Viaduct, Pier 36
(on the East River about half a mile north of the Manhattan Bridge; entrance is under the FDR Drive between Montgomery St and Rutgers Park)
Join us to celebrate Robin Nagle’s new book, Picking Up.
Subway: F train to East Broadway; walk east to South St, then north
By car from the north – south-bound FDR; segue onto the service road/viaduct at Jackson St; entrance on your left in about 500 feet
By car from the south — South Street going north; entrance is on your right about half a mile north of the Manhattan Bridge
RSVP to email@example.com
From the publisher’s website:
America’s largest city generates garbage in torrents—11,000 tons from households each day on average. But New Yorkers don’t give it much attention. They leave their trash on the curb or drop it in a litter basket, and promptly forget about it. And why not? On a schedule so regular you could almost set your watch by it, someone always comes to take it away.
But who, exactly, is that someone? And why is he—or she—so unknown?
In Picking Up, the anthropologist Robin Nagle introduces us to the men and women of New York City’s Department of Sanitation and makes clear why this small army of uniformed workers is the most important labor force on the streets. Seeking to understand every aspect of the Department’s mission, Nagle accompanied crews on their routes, questioned supervisors and commissioners, and listened to story after story about blizzards, hazardous wastes, and the insults of everyday New Yorkers. But the more time she spent with the DSNY, the more Nagle realized that observing wasn’t quite enough—so she joined the force herself. Driving the hulking trucks, she obtained an insider’s perspective on the complex kinships, arcane rules, and obscure lingo unique to the realm of sanitation workers.
Nagle chronicles New York City’s four-hundred-year struggle with trash, and traces the city’s waste-management efforts from a time when filth overwhelmed the streets to the far more rigorous practices of today, when the Big Apple is as clean as it’s ever been.
Throughout, Nagle reveals the many unexpected ways in which sanitation workers stand between our seemingly well-ordered lives and the sea of refuse that would otherwise overwhelm us. In the process, she changes the way we understand cities—and ourselves within them.
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.
In this short video found on the Boston University website, Professor Zaman explains how he and his students use discards to save lives. He is driven by a desire to connect knowledge to real-world solutions for those in developing countries.
As part of a classroom project, engineering students at BU sought to improve conditions for children in Zambia who fall prey to pneumonia. Together they developed a solar-powered charging device that recharges discarded cell phone batteries. This student-driven project moved from the classroom to Zambia and Pakistan where the results are saving lives.
Postgraduate Workshop & Conference: Media Archaeology and Technological Debris
Thursday, June 20 – Friday, June 21, 2013, Goldsmiths, University of London
This workshop aims to bring academics and PhD students together to
discuss emerging research projects on the field of media studies. It
means to combine the thriving approach of media archaeology with the
growing environmental concerns about technological debris, emphasizing
the complementary character of these topics in the construction of a
material understanding of media practices=92 past, present and future.
We expect to gather a number of emerging investigations that can shed
new light over the socio-political, economic, cultural, technological,
material and aesthetic dimensions of the continuous phenomena of
novelty and obsolescence of media systems. In doing so, we also hope
to create conditions to examine the systems of relationship formulated
around these topics, paying particular attention to the regimes of
value that define media objects either as museum artifacts or as
rubbish in different global/local contexts (such as Europe and Latin
10-15 PhD students will be selected to participate. The workshop
itself will last for two days: The first day will be composed of
closed reading groups in which the seasoned researchers will act as
respondents and mediators for the presentation of the participating
students, while the second day will be a small conference open to the
public. As such, the workshop intends to create a platform for
exchanging ideas and research methods upon this interdisciplinary
The event is being organized by students and graduates of Goldsmiths’
Department of Media and Communications, and is sponsored by
Goldsmiths’ Graduate School.
Confirmed speakers: Sean Cubitt (Media & Comms, Goldsmiths); Graham
Harwood (Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths); Jennifer Gabrys (Sociology,
Goldsmiths); Jussi Parikka (Media & Design, University of
Southampton); Gabriel Menotti (Audiovisual, UFES); and people from
Access Space (Sheffield).
Possible themes include:
- archaeological and anarchaeological research
- the repurposing of old devices (for fun & profit & art)
- programmed obsolescence and the temporality of materials and technologies
- precarious technical milieus
- artifact materiality and value
- media museography and historiography
- transnational contexts for zombie media
- industrial media and environmental hazards
- practices and economies of recycling technology
- electronic recycling and archiving of technological artifacts
- qualities, histories and applications of media systems and media ecologies
- global and local economic forces in cycles of innovation and decay
To apply, please submit a text document containing a title, a brief
description of your project (no more than 250 words), and a brief
biography to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday, April 21, 17:00 GMT.
For more information, see: http://www.technologicaldebris.info