From our friends at Discard Studies a post about a surveillance based art project
In her much-lauded series Stranger Visions, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates busts from discarded genetic material collected in public places. It began sitting in a therapists office here in New York City, where she saw a hair lodged in a piece of furniture. “I stared at it for an hour,” she says. “I couldn’t stop wondering who it belonged to, and what I could find out about that person.” (Science Magazine). Based on her reading of forensic DNA prototyping, she took 11 found hairs and tested their DNA in a genetics lab. She then built three dimensional masks of those people based on the information she received about eye color, geographical roots, sex, and other traits (though an exact facial reconstruction from such testing is not possible– that is the stuff of science fiction and CSI-style television shows).
Theme: The Human in the World, the World in the Human
Australian National University
6-8 November 2013
The theme of this conference embraces anthropology’s enduring commitments to grappling with the human condition in the widest terms. Yet it also directs attention to the ways in which the interrelated concepts, ‘human’ and ‘world’, receive critical disciplinary attention in the present. While anthropologists have always been interested in how particular environmental, social or political worlds shape and are shaped by human existence, the theme attends to the urgency that such questions take at a time when the limits and potentialities of what ‘human’ and ‘world’ mean are subject to searching re-examination. Climate change, developments in bio-technology, securitization and supply-chain capitalism, and processes of forced and voluntary migration are among an array of issues that challenge and stimulate the conceptual and ethnographic work of anthropologists in the present.
The theme also draws attention to how particularly located humans engage in projects of “worlding”, attempting to stake claims for the relevance of their own understandings, practices and commitments in contexts shaped by both human and non-human agents. How do humans get drawn into, adapt to and adopt in their own way worldly projects that originate from afar? What kinds of oppressions and freedoms are involved in these processes? Shifting global circumstances usher these questions into the anthropological domain, where they are dealt with from a multitude of perspectives, including anthropologies of globalization, media, religion and the environment, existential anthropology and economic anthropology, theories of network and meshwork and theories of political economy. We invite participation from any and all concerned with imagining the shape of the world and the place of the human in relation to it.
Instructions for the submission of individual paper abstracts: If you are interested in presenting a paper on any of the panel themes below, please contact the individual listed panel convenors directly. Send the panel convenor your paper title and abstract (maximum 250 words), along with your email address and institutional affiliation. Do NOT submit your paper abstracts to the conference organisers. The deadline for submission of paper proposals is 1 August 2013.
Conference panels of interest to readers of the Material World Blog may include the following:
Aliine Lotman (Anthro Dept, EHI, Tallinn University)
“Until the 19th century, the term ‘to consume’ was used mainly in its negative connotations of ‘destruction’ and ‘waste’. Tuberculosis was known as ‘consumption’, that is, a wasting disease. Then economists came up with a bizarre theory, which has become widely accepted, according to which the basis of a sound economy is a continual increase in the consumption (that is, waste) of goods” (Petr Skrabanek 1994: 29).
The activity of rummaging through rubbish for usable things is known by many names: dumpster diving, freeganism, skipping, recycling and so on. As the communities of people involved in this activity are not exactly homogenous, with a common ideology, it is not too certain where the different terms originate. Neverthess, I will denote here some of the connotations and ideas behind them.
Freeganism is often considered to be the most politically charged term in use. As the first known printed use of the word ‘freegan’ – the ‘Why Freegan? zine from the end of the 1990s – declares:
Freeganism is essentially an anti-consumerist ethic about eating; asking “why freegan?” is essentially asking “why not consumerism?” /…/ By not consuming, you are boycotting EVERYTHING! All the corporations, all the stores, all the pesticides, all the land and resources wasted, the capitalist system, the all-oppressive dollar, the wage slavery, the whole burrito! That should help you get to sleep at night (Oakes 1999: 3-4).
When the term freeganism is used, it is often in contrast to capitalism or about freeganism’s role in modifying it. The anarchist sociologist Jeff Shantz claims for example that freeganism is trying to evade capitalism by creating its own alternative economic system, inspired by Marcel Mauss’s conception of the gift economy (Shantz 2005). As such, the term might also be the most controversial one for being too strict to some and at the same too ambiguous to others (Gross 2009).(See also the Sydney doco Bin Appetit (YouTube 30March 2010).
Dumpster diving might be the most clear and easily graspable term for the outsider: ‘dumpster’ as the garbage bin or container where the items are retrieved from, and ‘diving’ as the activity necessary to reach deep into the vast containers filled with goods. Dumpster diving or ‘dumpstering’ are probably the most well known terms in an international context, whilst others might be perceived as more local terms.
Skipping and skip dipping share the connotations of dumpster diving and are the not as politically charged as freeganism. The difference seems to be geographical – ‘skip dipping’ is a term with clear Australian origin (Edwards & Mercer 2012) whilst ‘skipping’ is the term I heard from my informants who were either from Great Britain or had learned about skipping there.
The word most commonly used in Barcelona is recycling (reciclar) which has its congruous words in the languages spoken in the community. In Estonian, for example, the word is ‘recyclima’ [risaiklima]. It can be said to have the same meaning as ‘dumpster diving’. In this posting I mostly use this term, as it is the one my informants most commonly use.
Approaching the bins
A young man, we shall call him Mateo, yawns and stretches behind his laptop. It has been a tiring day of idleness. He does not work in the strict sense of the term. Today has been a usual day: he spent a number of hours planning tomorrow’s dinner, as friends are coming over and he would like to cook something nice. He then played with his roommate’s cat for some time and had something to eat. For a few hours he focused on the Wi-Fi problem – the neighbours’ router seemed to be giving a weaker signal, so a few other neighbouring networks had to be cracked. Now, as noted, he is stretching his back. Suddenly he glances at the clock – it is almost half past eight! He rises at once and walks into the kitchen, reaching for two large grocery bags from one of the drawers.
Mateo was born and raised in the outskirts of Barcelona, in a neighbourhood similar to where he lives now – houses built on hillsides, a cobweb of steep streets intertwined with innumerable staircases, a population of mostly working class Catalans and immigrants. His parents are too, as he says, working class people, trabajadores. From his childhood, he remembers dumpster diving as a shameful matter – a question of pride and poverty; even children wearing hand-downs from older siblings were bullied at school, not to even mention families who went picking through garbage. Mateo did not start recycling himself before ending up in Amsterdam after he was thrown out of the apartment he rented in Barcelona. Once he returned to Barcelona, he simply continued to go recycling as he had in Holland.
We are walking uphill as he tells me this story of becoming a recycler. We take a sharp left turn and he points straight ahead: “See? There’s Día”. Día is the shop that we are heading to; its red sign in the shape of a percentage symbol can not be seen from this angle. I immediately recognise the cashier’s red uniform as he steps out of the door of the shop, dragging behind him a full container of biological waste. We start moving faster, as Mateo tells me that the lady standing right next to the shop window is also a dumpster diver, and not the most generous kind. We reach the containers at the same time with the middle-aged lady (I later find out from a Polish squatter that the lady is Russian). The cashier has brought out two bin containers, one biological – with the brown lid – and the other – with the black lid – mixed. The three of us flip open the lids. Mateo and I like to think of ourselves as recyclers with a lot of solidarity (a catchword among the anarchist-punk-okupa scene) running through our veins, so naturally we share all our findings with the Russian lady, who then melts up and offers us some of her own. All in all the result of this 15-minute walk and talk are for us: six packs (500 grams each) of some yellow sweet fruit unbeknownst to me; a lot of red peppers; some salad; a huge amount of carrots; a broccoli; a big bag of onions; a zucchini; five small yoghurts; and two bottles of Actimel. We head home with a big smile, because being able to not pay for our food makes us radiate with joy.
Amy Hinterberger, Research Fellow, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS), School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford
Convened by the BioProperty Research Programme, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, 20 & 21 September 2012
Objects of property have many lives. This international conference explored the paths that scientific and technological objects travel as they acquire or lose their status as property. Researchers from Europe, North American and Australia gathered at the Ship Street Centre in Oxford to discuss the many lives or property, from art and artefacts to the material travels of waste. The eclectic group of papers were grouped around four central themes: ‘Value, waste and material transitions’, ‘Advocacy and collective ownership’, ‘Artefacts in action’, and ‘Traveling property and the politics of place’. Together the panels addressed what is involved in turning a tool or product of science into an alienable or inalienable possession. The papers also illuminated how competing understandings of ‘property’ affect the circulation of scientific knowledge and artefacts, as well as expounding on how legal categories of appropriability shape research and regulatory practices. You can see the full program and abstracts here: www.bioproperty.ox.ac.uk/events/the-lives-of-property/?archive=true
The event featured two keynote addresses. On Thursday Hannah Landecker (UCLA) spoke to the title ‘Extracts of evolution applied to injuries of knowledge economies: from food as fuel to nutrition as regulation‘ where she discussed transformations to the metabolic sciences wrought by the rise of epigenetics, microbiomics, cell signaling and hormone biology. Given the long-standing role of metabolism as a font for philosophy and political theory, Landecker argued that these changes in the metabolic sciences have broad implications for the understanding both the life of value, and the value of life. On Friday, Mario Biagoli (UC Davis), closed the conference with his keynote address: ‘Parenthood, slavery and kidnapping: the strange genealogy of plagiarism’. In this talk, Biagoli looked at the ‘lives of property’ from what he called the other end, that is, not the lives of objects as they become or cease to be property, but at some of the ways in which figures of the production and reduction of life (human reproduction, abduction, and enslavement) framed and continue to frame the notion of the plagiarist, the author, and intangible property.
The conference was organised by the BioProperty Research Project, an ERC funded project that explores evolving property rights in life sciences research.
Check out more events and our current research on BioProperty here
Mark Dion and the Arts and Archaeologies of Waste
– William Viney
[William Viney has a PhD in cultural studies and humanities from the London Consortium, University of London. An editor for Pluto Press and Pod Academy, his current research project examines the philosophical, artistic and anthropological significance of twins. http://williamviney.com]
An interesting debate has simmered in the humanities about the relative importance of ‘waste’ in our material and historical imagination. This post has the modest ambition of asking what some theorists of archaeology have said about waste things, about the time waste objects seem to articulate and about the narrative interpretations that seek to chart the comings and goings of things. Having done this short tour about some secondary texts, I want to then compare those statements to a work of installation art that deals explicitly with the archaeologies of waste. The end result, I hope, offers an opportunity to overhear the ways in which the dispersal of waste interacts with the gathering, ordering and reassembly that collecting things enact. Meanwhile, I’d like to advance a temporal reading of waste which permits me to contend that archaeologists assemble time through the collection of things.
I. Gathering Waste
To collect, to describe, to classify; these are activities that seem to complicate many of the statically terminal attributes (such as valuelessness, inertia, finitude and dissolution), with which objects of waste have been traditionally associated. And yet it is clear that we can collect waste, indeed, the collection of things called waste can play an important role in defining acts of collection as such. Waste, in this respect, shows itself to be an enigmatic presence within the historical record. One of the enchanting and enigmatic aspects of waste is this sense of availability, a temporal openness that helps, paradoxically, to structure its recovery, collection and analysis.
Christopher Tilley has written, “the primary event of archaeology is the event of excavation or writing, not the event of the past”, and yet it is a sense of what has past that structures the possibility of framing the eventual, presentation of collected things. Through its end-loaded temporality, the time associated with waste and its lingering sense of postponement makes an important contribution to the presencing of archaeological analysis, making the collection of waste both a measure of archaeological work and a category of thing ripe for describing the aims of that work. Matthew Johnson, in his introduction to archaeological theory, employs an image of waste collection to distinguish the professionalism of contemporary archaeological practice: “What makes us archaeologists as opposed to mindless collectors of old junk is the set of rules we use to translate those facts into meaningful accounts of the past”. This statement entertains some subtle oppositions. Firstly, that archaeology does not collect “junk” because it is a technical discipline able to give closure to what it collects, to make meaningful accounts of historical things. Secondly, and closely related to the first, junk is incompatible with the formation of a coherent record; junk is that stuff which is resistant to translation. Of course, Johnson uses terms like ‘rubbish’ or ‘junk’ to denote semantic incomprehensibility or valuelessness, a familiar rhetorical move that ignores the ways in which we use waste to make sense of and describe the changing value of our environment. Above all, Johnson’s conception of waste reproduces oppositions – between the dispersal and collection of knowledge, between scattered waste things and valuable and preserved artefacts – that obscure the cohering effects of waste and the gathered, recuperative acts of collection.