Waste Matter: Potatoes, Thing-Power and Biosociality

Gay Hawkins
Emily Potter


The problem with not seeing waste as matter is that cultural frames, from moralism to green ideology, reduce it to an effect of human action and manipulation. If waste is ‘socially constructed’, if it is merely a product of human action and classification then its easy to imagine a future where new ecological practices render it redundant. It’s also easy to use waste to reveal the logic or illogic of a culture, to diagnose the social through the textualisation of garbage. But in the demand to show how waste is just an effect of cultural practices—from environmental ethics to consumer capitalism—the active connections between humans and wasted material in which both are produced are hard to see. The action seems to flow all one way. Waste is reduced to a product of historically variable human practices. It becomes a slave to the vagaries of desire, and its ‘material recalcitrance’, to use Jane Bennett’s term, is denied.
Yet surely what worries us most about waste is its material recalcitrance, its lingering presence, its capacity to suddenly capture our attention and unsettle us with its biological or thing-power.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/csr.v12i1.3417

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