New Draper Spring Course!

Draperites! Our fearless leader, Robin Nagle, will be teaching the below course this spring. Interested students should email Robert Dimit ( for approval.


Garbage in Gotham: The Anthropology of Trash
Robin Nagle
Draper Program / Anthropology
Spring 2014 / Wednesdays, 6:20 – 8:20
Garbage is understood as a practical problem, but this course also considers values, traditions, and cultural assumptions inherent in the notion of “trash.” How is the material object called “garbage” created, perceived, processed, ignored? What are the economics of garbage in Gotham more than a decade after the city’s last landfill closed? What are the social assumptions that allow garbage to be an acceptable, even inevitable part of daily life?
The class starts with readings that propose more inclusive parameters for authoritative knowledge so that waste in general, and garbage in particular, might find a place in academic discourse. We then look at ideas of private property and value imparted to material objects and consider how such measures are inverted in the process of creating trash. Readings move to anthropologists who have studied distinctions between the sacred and the profane. We include philosophies and histories of waste and worth. We step into contemporary conversations about trash through several considerations, including the gendering of both domestic and municipal trash management, the history of garbage handling in various times and places, the relationship between garbage and consumption, the labors of waste (who exactly is responsible for taking away the trash?), garbage archaeology, and the ways in which solid waste and related industrial processes shape landscape — among many other themes.

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