In this course we will look at garbage, or waste, as a lens for thinking about consumption, value, inequality, and marginalization at home and around the globe. One definition of waste is matter that has no value. As such, waste is a powerful signifier. What we throw out tells us something about ourselves and the societies we live in. Waste has the capacity to mark people and places, to shape subjectivities, and to contribute to the marginalization of occupational groups and affected communities. But people also have the capacity to transform waste and to find new and creative uses for discarded objects, infusing them with value once again. Waste is good to think with when exploring a broad range of sociological themes.
Think critically about the relationship between consumption, waste, and the social construction of value and how this shapes waste practices over time and in different sites.
Articulate ways in which the circulation of waste both maps and reinforces social inequalities and contributes to marginalization.
Better understand the life cycles of particular kinds of material objects and the effects of these forms of waste on human health, the environment, and local ecologies.
Critically examine your own consumption and waste practices, guided by your experiences in the class of keeping a waste diary and completing a series of exercises organized around it.
Demonstrate the acquisition of social science research skills gained by conducting observations and writing them up.
Identify and think imaginatively about ways you and others might eliminate waste or creatively re-use it.