Exploring the Trash Heap: Waste in Contemporary Culture

Taught Fall 2018

Course Description:
We usually consider garbage as something we need to keep out of sight. We try to ignore it, ship it someplace else, and simply don’t want to admit how much our lives rely on creating junk. But can we better understand ourselves if we pause to look at trash? The garbage we create overwhelms the world—and in some way, we all play a role in a system of waste that ruins environments, poisons communities, and defines how we inhabit our planet. In this course, we investigate the many forms that wastes may take. How much do our daily lives depend on plastics? What happens to our cellphones and computers they turn into “e-waste”? How do certain communities encounter wastes differently? And what role does waste have in establishing and maintaining social inequalities? In this class, we will explore these questions by reading journalism and fiction novels, watching films, and examining visual art and design projects that reveal our relationship to trash and our culture of waste.

Readings:
Brian Thill, Waste (Object Lessons)
Heather Rogers, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage
Ann Pancake, Strange as this Weather Has Been
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in Mumbai City.
Latife Tekin, Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills.
Jeff VanderMeer, Borne: A Novel.
Rita Wong, Undercurrent.

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