The Discard Studies Conference: Exploring Disposal’s Past, Present, and Future

New York. April 23-25, 2020

Hosted by NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with support from the Center for Humanities.

With a keynote address by Brenda Chalfin (Florida), plenary address by Max Liboiron (Memorial University), and a Albert Gallatin lecture and exhibition of the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

Organized by Rosalind Fredericks (NYU), Mohammed Rafi Arefin (NYU), and Robin Nagle (NYU).

Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of research that focuses on waste and the larger social, political, and economic processes that render certain objects, practices, and populations disposable. Research in this field has questioned the hegemony of recycling (MacBride 2011), traced the colonial effects of pollution (Liboiron 2017), and examined the often-neglected work of waste laborers (Fredericks 2018; Nagle 2013). This emergent scholarship is coalescing under the interdisciplinary field of Discard Studies which is driven by the question how, why, and to whom do waste, discards, and disposal matter? (Moore 2012). Discard Studies has inspired new avenues of inquiry in diverse areas of scholarship including the history of capitalism, aesthetics and design, urbanization, colonialism, language and power, environmental justice, and social movements and social change.

Greater academic attention to discards has, in large part, been driven by waste’s increasing importance in everyday politics and life. From environmental justice struggles against transnational toxic dumping regimes (Lepawsky 2018) and campaigns to reduce single use plastics, to social movements mobilizing human waste to interrupt state repression (McFarlane and Silver 2016), waste and its management are problems that are at the heart of contemporary debates about how to deal with rapid and unprecedented environmental change and further projects of social justice.

Building on this important moment in which waste and disposability have garnered increased attention, the Discard Studies Collaborative at New York University will host a conference to both take stock of work done under the broad label of Discard Studies and discuss the future of the readily emerging field. This conference will take place around themes familiar to discardians including labor, urban and environmental governance, and protest while also asking how Discard Studies might incorporate new and urgent issues such as anthropogenic environmental change in a world structured by colonial, racialized, gendered and classed violence.

The conference will take place over 3 days at New York University and will cover travel and accommodations for participants. We aim to bring together new and established scholars working on discards and related themes to evaluate the state of this emergent field and identify new directions for future research. Therefore, we invite paper proposals from a broad range of scholars and practitioners from anthropology, geography, science and technology studies, design, urban planning, architecture, history, and literary studies. We encourage papers from theoretical perspectives as well as contributions to discard practice and policy. All papers should present new material and a formal paper (of 6000-8000 words) will be expected by January 15, 2019. A select group of papers will be curated for publication in an edited volume based on the conference.

We will structure the conference around 4 panels, a special Albert Gallatin lecture and art exhibition by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles in the Gallatin Galleries, a keynote lecture by Brenda Chalfin, and a plenary lecture by Max Liboiron. The themes of the four panels will be directed by the submissions the Discard Studies Collaborative receives.

To be part of the conference, please submit a paper proposal to by August 15, 2019. Paper proposals should include: the title of the paper, name, title & disciplinary field, affiliation, email, a 250-word abstract, and 5 keywords.