The Discard Studies Blog Is Back! (And Could Use Our Support.)

SimsMRF_conveyor

New York City’s curbside recycling collections being sorted at the Sims facility in Sunset Park.

September brings with it the resumption of posts on the remarkably generative Discard Studies blog edited by Professors Max Liboiron and Josh Lepawsky and graduate student Alex Zahara of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the last several years, the authors of the blog have generated some of the best critical thinking across disciplines assessing the power relations, systems, culture, and economics of how and why modern societies discard. What Is Discard Studies?

We tend to think that we are familiar with waste because we deal with it every day. Yet,  most aspects of waste are entirely hidden from common view and understanding, including the wider social, economic, political, cultural, and material systems that shape waste and wasting. Unlike studies that take waste and trash as their primary objects of study, discard studies looks at wider systems that make waste and wasting they ways they are. For instance, rather than asking how much people recycle and why they don’t recycle more, discard studies asks why recycling is considered good in the first place (MacBride 2011, Liboiron 2009, Ackerman 1997).

The field of discard studies is  united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure, and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste, broadly defined. As its starting point, discard studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of discards and their meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste.

Discard Studies is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures. We produce and host: monthly research-based articles on discard studies; compile a monthly report on recent articles, jobs, and calls for participation relevant to discard studies called “The Dirt”; and maintain a repository of definitionsbibliographies, and syllabi as resources.

The kind of reader who would wander onto my blog would certainly get a lot out of reading Discard Studies, and I recommend it for anyone interested in STS, environmental studies, urban studies, material culture, critical waste studies, political economy, ethnography, or environmental history. (A few of us environmental historians, including Martin Melosi, Steve Corey, Ruth Rand, Peter Thorsheim, and I, have structured sessions at ASEH to advance the approach Max, Josh, Alex, blog founder Robin Nagle, and their colleagues have championed on this site.)

The blog is back, and it has costs to meet, including paying for the server, compensating the collaborating editor who is a graduate student, and (if enough of us donate) allowing the writers of each piece to be compensated for their labors. If this strikes you as a valuable endeavor, consider supporting Discard Studies on Patreon.

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Sustainability Studies at Pratt: Fall 2018 Course Availability

Pratt_Willoughby_Main_GateMonday begins the new academic year at Pratt Institute, and a new schedule of courses. The spring ended with an all-time-high of sixty students registered in the minor, and we have an array of exciting courses this fall. Most sections are full, but seats are still available in a few. The following is a list of sections with available seats as of Friday afternoon, August 24.

SS201T The Sustainable Core. Our introductory course, featuring a variety of speakers giving students insight into the ways different disciplines approach sustainability on campus. This course satisfies the General Education Menu T (Ways of Thinking, Knowing, Doing) requirement. As of August 24, the Thursday morning section has ten seats available.

SSWI222G Making/Faking Nature. This course explores a wide range of philosophical conceptions of nature and examines how these theories have influenced the way we treat our environment, animals, and each other. We will consider, among other things, whether nature is dead, if there was ever such a thing as wilderness, whether we can restore or improve nature, and if so, who should have the power and authority to do so. Readings are selected from a variety of fields in the social sciences and cultural studies. As of August 24, the Friday morning section has one seat available.

MSCI 270 Ecology. This course provides a background in the fundamental principles of ecological science, including concepts of natural selection, population and community ecology, biodiversity, and sustainability. Students will acquire an “ecological literacy” about how the natural world works, and develop an understanding of how scientific methods are used to construct ecological knowledge. This course is required of all Sustainability Studies minors. As of August 24, the Wednesday morning section has six seats available, and the Wednesday afternoon section has six seats available.

MSWI 270C Ecology, Environment, and Anthropocene. Like any other organism, humans rely on their environment-most prominently the living part of that environment-in order to survive. But unlike any other species, humans have the ability to re-shape the diverse environments they inhabit in profound, fundamental, and potentially destructive ways. This course explores how living ecosystems function and how that functioning provides the resources required by both individual humans and the societies we form. This course may be used to fulfill the MSCI 270  requirement for Sustainability Studies minors and also satisfies the General Education writing intensive requirement. As of August 24, the Monday morning section has two seats available, and the Monday early afternoon section has one seat available.

MSCI 381 Green Building Science. This course will equip students with the basic technical knowledge they will need to assess the true sustainability of design and construction options in building design. Drawing on physics, engineering, chemistry, and environmental studies, students will learn how to understand the performance of a building from the perspectives of water use and waste disposal, heat flow and energy consumption, air flow and the indoor environment, fenestration and lighting requirements. By the conclusion of the course, students will have a clear understanding of how to advance in the field of sustainable building, including familiarity with carbon footprints, the US Green Building Council’s LEED program, and the Passive House standard. As of August 24, the Wednesday evening section has eight seats available.

IND 487 Sustainability and Production. This course explores issues of sustainability and social responsibility in product design with an emphasis on materials and supply chain flows. The importance of the designer’s role in understanding the environmental and social consequences of creating and producing products will be emphasized. Intended for the advanced undergraduate, studies on the impacts of production and consumption will be covered through readings, class discussions, and lecture materials. Students will be introduced to tools to assess the environmental impacts of products and services to create baseline models; their findings will be used to develop alternative concepts that reduce environmental impacts of products. As of August 24, the Wednesday afternoon section has fourteen seats available.

INT 481 Interior Option Lab: Environmental Quality. The Interior Options Lab provides the opportunity for hands on exploration in selected areas of interest. Projects will explore detail areas of Interior Design rather that full interior Environments. As of August 24, the Monday afternoon section has ten seats available. 

SUST 430 Planet Ocean. Ocean acidification. Exterminated fish. Bleached corals. This course travels to the planet’s last frontier-the ocean-to understand the root causes of its deterioration and to connect to its force and splendor. Students explore islands and waves, empires and economies, nightmares and fantasies among sailors, surfers, scientists and slaves. Our goal is to make visible the hidden but consequential practices unfolding at sea so that we think the “planet” beyond land-based perspectives. As of August 24, the Tuesday morning section has one seat available, and the Tuesday afternoon section has one seat available.

SUST 440 Environmental Economics. This course examines theories and methods of economics relevant for understanding the environment. It combines theoretical analyses and economic history to understand the social forces relevant to sustainability and climate change with discussions on specific environmental policies related to pollution, energy, climate change, and health issues. Specific topics addressed include externalities, property rights, economies of scale, competition and concentration, distribution, growth and development, and demographic shifts. Alternative policies will be addressed including regulation, cost-benefit analysis, population controls, fines and criminal penalties, the carbon tax, cap-and trade, green technologies, campaigns to change consumer behavior, and anti-poverty programs. As of August 24, the Monday morning section has four seats available.

SUST 445 Sustainable Technology. This course considers the microeconomics and macroeconomics of technological change and what determines which technologies become widely adopted. Specific sectors which will be examined include transportation, energy production, construction, and food production. Energy-saving and resource-saving technologies in other sectors will also be considered. The role of the public sector-both on a national and international level-will be addressed. As of August 24, the Monday afternoon section has six seats available.

Seat availability is likely to change quickly, so be sure to confirm registration if any of these classes particularly appeal to you.

The Mountaintop 50 Years Later

MLK50_NYOn this day in 1968, Martin Luther King delivered his final speech in Memphis in support of the sanitation workers who had been on strike since that February. Tonight in Washington Square Park, the audio of the speech will be played in its entirety beginning at 7:30pm. On the other side of the country, Stanford holds a screening of the documentary “I am MLK Jr.,” performances, and comments by Professor Clayborne Carson beginning at 6pm PT. (April 4 update: In Chicago, 99-year-old civil rights activist and historian Timuel Black discusses Dr. King’s life and legacy at Rockefeller Chapel at 12:30pm CT.)

Memphis has been holding events since the start of the week relating to the speech and Dr. King’s assassination; Rev. Dr. Bernice King is participating in several events, and( the Commercial Appeal provides information on events on Wednesday’s sad anniversary.

A few resources on the speech and its significance:

Complete audio and transcript of the speech.

A 2008 NPR interview with the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, who was present at the speech.

Memphis journalist Wendi C. Thomas’s account of how Mayor Loeb’s policies and his family’s business practices exacerbated racial inequality a half century ago…and since.

Michael K. Honey’s history of the strike Going Down Jericho Road, which contextualizes King’s involvement in the long struggle for recognition by the workers.

 

Green Week at Pratt

Pratt_Willoughby_Main_GateIf it’s late March, that means it is time for Pratt Institute’s annual Green Week series of events. This year’s schedule kicks off with the Sustainability Crash Course this Saturday from 9-4:30pm. Admission is free, but registration is required. The schedule:

PRESENTATION SCHEDULE

9:00 – 9:15 am

Registration. Please sign in on the 1st Floor of the Engineering Building on Pratt’s Brooklyn Campus

9:15 – 10:00 am : Session 1

Session 1A: Sustainable Fashion is Personal: The Industry’s Impact on Workers, Communities and YOU

Alexandra P. McNair – Founder, Fashion FWD

Session 1B: Up Sh*t’s Creek: Creative Approaches to Organizing in Flushing, Queens

Cody Ann Herrmann – Artist and Grassroots Organizer

Session 1C: Green Roofs & Machu Picchu

Brent Porter – Adjunct Professor of the School of Architecture

10:00 – 10:10 am : Break

10:10 – 10:55 am : Session 2

Session 2A: Digital Storytelling: How To Create Authentic Content and Grow Your Business Online

Sam Dagirmanjian – Co-Founder of Storey Inc.

Session 2B: MAKING CONTACT… Music of the Plant

Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower – RN, Clinical Herbalist

Session 2C: Reimagining Waste

Josh Draper – Lecturer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Principal, PrePost

10:55 – 11:05 am : Break

11:05 – 11:50 am : Session 3

Session 3A: What you wear tells who you are. Speak well.

Althea Simons – Founder/designer/CEO of Grammar NYC

Session 3B: Climate Futures, Building Futures, City Futures – Getting New York City Ready for Tomorrow

Richard W. Leigh – PhD, PE, LEED AP, Visiting Professor of Physics at Pratt Institute

Session 3C: Biomimicry: Interior Design Strategies and Examples

Tetsu Ohara – Pratt Institute, Interior Design Department

11:50 am – 1:00 pm : Lunch Break

1:00 – 2:20 pm: Session 4

Session 4A: Weaving Culture and Sustainable Fashion

Melissa Eidson – Director & Producer

Manfred Lopez Grem – Cinematographer (Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca)

Dana Schlieman – Editor

Session 4B: What’s in my Water?

Kayla Fennelly – Project Coordinator NYPIRG

Session 4C: Citizen Enforcement Can Eliminate Vehicle Idiling

George Pakenham – Filmaker

2:20 – 2:30 pm : Break

2:30 – 3:15 pm : Session 5

Session 5A: Field notes: The Global Organic Textile Standard and Sustainability

Ely Battalen – Sustainability Consultant and Educator

Session 5B: Take Back the Tap

Jennifer E. Telesca – Assistant Professor of Environmental Justice in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute

Rebecca Welz – Adjunct Professor – CCE, Adjunct Professor – CCEFoundation Art, Industrial Design

Ira Stern – Chief of the Natural Resources Division for the NYCDEP Bureau of Water Supply

3:15 – 3:25 pm : Break

3:25 – 4:45 pm: Keynote Panel: THE TRUMP EFFECT: Women, Weapons & Weather

Brenna Cohen – NYC District Environmental Coordinator for Patagonia

Debera Johnson – Executive Director, Brooklyn Fashion +Design Accelerator

Susan Lerner – Executive Director for Common Cause NY

Mireia lopez – Creative Director and Founder of Milo Tricot

Nantasha Williams – Women’s March

The opening reception for Green Week will take place Tuesday at 12:30pm in Higgins Hall. We’ll have music, food, and beverages, and details about the several events taking place during the week.

I will speak as part of two Green Week events. On Thursday at 12:30 in ARC E-02, several faculty will present Pecha Kucha style presentations showcasing Environmental Awareness/Sustainability integration in their classes, and I will discuss field events in one or two SSCS-housed Sustainability seminars.

At the end of the week (March 30-31), Pratt’s Global South Center holds the Archipelagos and Aquapelagos conference in the Alumni Reading Room from 11am to 5pm. About two dozen scholars from all over the world will discuss the prominence of water in the shaping of contemporary cities. Several members of Pratt’s Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies will present; my own presentation will investigate several ways waste informs the past, present, and future of Newtown Creek.

Those are just a few of the events taking place this week; consult the full schedule at the Pratt Sustainability Coalition website.

Discussing Environmental History in Philadelphia and St. Louis

The end of winter has dynamic meetings and discussions of environmental history, and 2018 is no exception – though the format departs from my usual routine of ASEH meetings. I had the pleasure to visit a couple of exciting programs the past couple of weeks. At the end of February, I was a guest in Scott Knowles and Chuck Haas’s City of Systems course as part of Drexel University’s new Urban Strategy M.S. program.

Drexel_talkThe program is a cross-disciplinary approach to urban problems and solutions, and the course is team-taught by a historian (Scott) and environmental engineer (Chuck). As part of their module on waste, they assigned Clean and White, so I agreed to join them for a public talk and conversation with the seminar about the social and cultural dimensions to municipal waste management. The program is the kind of exciting mix of social sciences, engineering, and public policy that Carnegie Mellon in general (and Joel Tarr in particular) exposed me to during my graduate training, and I suspect the Philadelphia region will benefit greatly from its students in the years to come.

WUSTL_posterOne week later, Washington University in St. Louis hosted me as part of its Mellon Sawyer “Wastelands” Seminar. Like Drexel’s program, this seminar focuses on a set of issues investigated by scholars working in and across several disciplines. After an exciting set of rescheduled flights due to Northeastern weather, I made it to St. Louis in time for my public lecture on establishing the long history of environmental racism based on the chronology of Clean and White. That was my second event of the day; immediately after stepping off the plane, I was able to make it to campus in time for an engaging conversation with Heather O’Leary’s Environmental Anthropology class.

The following morning, I got to workshop my current research project on Newtown Creek, getting terrific feedback from the participants. Particular thanks to Nancy Reynolds and Heather O’Leary for inviting me and contextualizing my work in the seminar’s activities, Waseem-Ahmed Bin-Kasim for our conversations about urban sanitation, and Vasiliki Touhouliotis for both cogent comments on the Newtown Creek piece and handling logistics for my visit.

I particularly value these discussions because this year is a departure from my annual routine: I am missing the ASEH meeting in Riverside this year. While I am heading to California, I will be in the Bay Area for the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law’s symposium and related events honoring Franklin Zimring’s career in criminology. Paraphrasing the Haggadah, “next year, in Columbus!” I look forward to resuming the routine in 2019.

Reg E. Cathey

About 4 1/2 years ago, our late and much-missed dog Hudson landed a role in an independent film called Nasty Baby, which Sebastian Silva was filming down the street from our apartment. This led to a few weeks where Jen and Hudson spent long hours on the set, and I would sometimes visit briefly while staying at home with our frail older dog Chloe.

The antagonist in the film was played by Reg E. Cathey. If you see it, he plays a frightening and belligerent character. Proof he was a splendid actor, because he was the most warm and charming presence on the block with the cameras off. Kind to our dog, and friendly to me when I would drop a dog bed off during a long shoot. Meeting him was a highlight of our experience with the film, not because of his impressive acting resume, but because he was such a nice man.

All this made news of his death last week particularly sad in our household. He leaves behind some terrific performances and, no doubt, many, many friends.

On an error in my New York Times essay: Where the “death every day” mistake originated.

The online version of my New York Times op-ed on the perils of waste work has been corrected and eliminates the error discussed below. I owe the readers, the Times, and all involved in waste handling occupations context for the original error that was corrected.

In my essay on waste work in the Saturday Times, I made an error obvious to sharp-eyed readers: 31 deaths of refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2016 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) does not equal one death every day. The error is inexcusable but has an explanation: my research covers waste-related work in several occupational categories ranging from janitorial services and laundry work to salvage yards, and in my notes I used in developing the essay I consulted BLS data for the larger category: “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services.” The number of deaths in that category (including the refuse and recycling workers, and also related categories including janitorial and cleaning work — excluding maids and housekeeping cleaners — and hazardous waste remediation, among other occupations such as landscape maintenance and pest extermination) in each of the years between 2013 and 2016 range between 360 and 458, a number that sadly meets the death-per-day rate as expressed in the published essay. Among the 2016 deaths within this category included the following subcategories: 16 in janitorial work and 67 in waste management and remediation services.

(Outside of that broader category, but pertinent to discussions of the hazards of waste work, BLS reported 64 deaths of building cleaning workers, 19 deaths of recyclable material merchant wholesalers, 8 deaths in laundry and drycleaning services, 8 deaths of first-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers, and 6 deaths in sewage treatment facilities in 2016.)

In my mind, I was thinking of all of these workers when approving the final wording of the essay. However, that thought remained only in my notes and my mind: I made no reference to the above data in the essay or sources I gave the Times (nor did I provide distinctions in the “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services” category between waste-related occupations, and, for example, landscaping services). Responsibility for this error is mine and mine alone.

I regret the error because it detracts from my point that we must recognize and protect the often-overlooked workers who handle wastes. In doing so, I myself obscured the deaths of the workers who perform the various waste-related tasks described in this letter, while presenting an assertion that did not match the data for refuse and recyclable material collectors. I write this letter to recognize those workers in the conversation that no doubt will be generated by my error.