Course code:



MA - Intermediate/Advanced

Class size limit:


Meets the following requirements:

  • HS - Human Studies

Typically offered:


The term “waste” has varied definitions; it can suggest excess material not put to use, garbage, time or objects that are not made productive or useful, and that which is thrown away.

Waste is both a verb and a noun, and the term often carries moral or ethical undertones; time should not be wasted, neither should food nor material goods, and of course, life itself should not be wasted. Waste should be reduced or transformed through consumption or recycling. Waste can occasion disgust and outrage, but even if less acknowledged, also fascination, desire, and pleasure. Time spent idle is often time considered “wasted.”

Waste is also often understood as destructive and as the product of destruction. At the same time, waste can also be a necessary by product of its opposites. Psychoanalysis has drawn attention to feces association with gold and the notion of the gift of waste in the formation of subjectivity. Political economy, postcolonial studies, anthropology and feminist theory have all addressed histories of abjection, notions of excrement, disposable populations, and the ways in which humans have dealt with literal waste and those materials and lives that become understood as waste. In this regard, understandings of waste have been central for notions of value, productivity, desire, cleanliness and filth, inside and outside, and the place of difference.

In this course, we will examine some of the varied ways in which waste has been understood—in terms of political economy, political theory, postcolonial studies and feminist theory, addressing waste in terms of identity, the natural environment, value, and the formation of what counts as human. Readings will include texts by Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, Georges Bataille, Julia Kristeva, Sigmund Freud, Dominque Laporte, Mary Douglas, Jacques Lacan, Norman O. Brown, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Kathleen Millar, Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, Kevin Bales, Paul Ricoeur, Ranjana Khanna, and Fran̤oise Verg̬s. Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, reading responses, and two short analytical essays.



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