The Anthropology of Trash

Spring 2007 – Alexx Campbell




Collecting - Dates to be determined

At some point during the semester, I will save all garbage I generate for a given period.  This includes anything that I would throw out in a garbagecan or waste basket; it does not include toilet paper. I’ll then bring my trash to class.


Reusing – Dates to be determined

Choose a product that you would normally discard after using. Instead of throwing it out, save it and use it as many times as you can until it dies. Examples might be paper or plastic shopping bags, paper coffee cups, plastic water bottles, etc. Mark the date that you first reuse it and see how long it lasts. Also notice how many of them you save by using one over and over.


Other practices to be decided upon.


Field Trips:


The Official Garbage System - I plan to do something where I go along with garbage collectors as they make their rounds, somewhere in the Amherst area – either with the College, or with the Town.  I also want to visit the Town dump.


Dumpster Diving

In one form or another, I will go dumpster diving, preferably with others who have done it before.  I will try to find something that I can actually “rescue” from the garbage and use for myself.




Week 1:  Theories of Dirt, Disgust, and Separation


Mary Douglas

Introduction and Chapters 1-3, Purity and Danger. 1966, Pantheon.


William Miller

Chapter 3, The Anatomy of Disgust. 1998, Harvard University Press.


Week 2:  Ignoring Trash and the Value of Waste


Martin O’Brien

“Rubbish-Power: Towards a Sociology of the Rubbish Society”, In J. Hearn and S. Roseneil, eds., Consuming Cultures: Power and Resistance. 1999, St. Martin’s Press.


Edd de Coverly, et. al.

Hidden Mountain: The social avoidance of waste.  2003, International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.


Igor Kopytoff

“The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. 1986, Cambridge University Press.


Gay Hawkins

“Plastic bags: Living with Rubbish” in International Journal of Cultural Studies.  2001, Vol. 4, No. 1, 5-23.


Michael Thompson

parts of Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value. 1979, Oxford University Press


Week 3: A History of Trash in America


Benjamin Miller

Fat of the Land: The Garbage Of New York--The Last Two Hundred Years.  2000, Four Walls Eight Windows


Week 4: Trash Then and Now


Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash.  2005, Little, Brown and Co.


Week 5: Garbage Men (and Women)


Field Trip – The Official Garbage System


This American Life

Act One and Act Three (radio segments) from Episode 249: Garbage.  2003, Public Radio International.  http://www.thislife.org/pages/descriptions/03/249.html


Robin Nagle

“A weeklong journal of a sanitation worker in training” in Slate. October 4-8, 2004.  http://www.slate.com/id/2106849/entry/2107445/


“Why We Love to Hate San Men”, in Bad Subjects.  Issue #55, May 2001.  http://bad.eserver.org/issues/2001/55/nagle.html


Edward Walsh

“Garbage Collecting: Stigmatized Work and Self-Esteem” in Roy P. Fairfield, ed., Humanizing the Workplace.  1974, Prometheus Books.


Week 6: Unofficial Garbage Workers, Part One


Field Trip – Dumpster Diving


Jeff Ferrell

Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging.  2005, New York University Press.


Ted Botha

Mongo: Adventures in Trash.  2004, Bloomsbury USA.


Week 7: Unofficial Garbage Workers, Part Two


This American Life

Act Two (radio segment) from Episode 249: Garbage.  2003, Public Radio International.  http://www.thislife.org/pages/descriptions/03/249.html


Eduardo Coutinho

The Scavengers (film).  1992, First Run/Icarus Films.


D.T. Sicular

“Pockets of Peasants in Indonesian Cities: The case of scavengers” in World Development.  1991, Vol. 19, Iss. 2-3, 137-161.


Week 8: How Do Trash Systems Affect Different People Differently?


Susan Strasser

Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. 2000, Owl Books.


Susan E. Gunn and Zenaida Ostos

“Dilemmas in tackling child labour: The case of scavenger children in the Phillipines” in International Labour Review.  1992, 131(6), 629-646.


Marijk Huysman

“Waste picking as a survival strategy for women in Indian cities” in Environment and Urbanization.  1994, Vol. 6, No. 2, 155-174.


Anna Wex

“A Foreign Concern: solid waste management in Panajachel, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala” in National Association for the Practice of Anthropology Bulletin.  2007, Vol. 27, No. 1, 64-80.  http://www.anthrosource.net/doi/abs/10.1525/napa.2007.27.1.64



Week 9: The Politics of Pollution and Global Racism


David Naguib Pellow

Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago.  2002, MIT Press.


Something about the international toxic waste trade


Week 10: Garbology


William Rathje and Cullen Murphy

Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage.  2001, University of Arizona Press.


Week 11: Recycling and Other Alternatives


Tim Edensor

“Waste Matter - The Debris of Industrial Ruins and the Disordering of the Material World” in Journal of Material Culture.  2005, 10 (3), 311-332.


William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.  2002, North Point Press.


Week 12: Something Really Awesome


To be decided.