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Critical Discard Studies and Environmental History: Revisited

Thu, March 30, 10:30am to 12:00pm, The Drake Hotel, Georgian

Session Submission Type: Roundtable

Abstract

A panel on Critical Discard Studies and Environmental History was on the 2016 ASEH program and was met with great enthusiasm and a large audience, despite the fact that it was one of the last sessions of the conference. Critical Discard Studies, an emerging interdisciplinary sub-field, was defined by the fonder of its blog, sociologist Robin Nagle, as taking “waste and wasting, broadly defined, as its topic of study. We use the ‘discard studies’ instead of ‘waste studies’ to ensure that the categories of what is systematically left out, devalued, left behind, and externalized are left open.” Topics for inquiry include social customs, labor arrangements, resource stocks and flows, economic relationships, cultural norms, public health controversies, political histories, and geographies and circulation. This interdisciplinary subfield, therefore, deals with the materialities of waste as well as its cultural, social, economic, and political context.

Environmental historians have engaged in many aspects of Discard Studies and are formally identifying their work with that rubric. Historical assessment of refuse management, consumption, the polluting impacts of effluents, and so forth are now treated within narratives and analyses of Discard Studies. The proposed roundtable brings together historians who have written and taught about myriad waste issues with colleagues in the social sciences who have been in the forefront of developing Critical Discard Studies. The panel will continue to discuss the different aspects of Discard Studies as they relate to environmental history, giving depth to a discussion started in Seattle.

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