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Beach

Beaches are good places to think with about waste and ruination. They were once generically places of waste (in the etymological sense of “unoccupied, uncultivated”) while recognized as actants in processes of ruination—including erosion that produced their defining shingle and sand, the death and decay of what washes up on them, and the shipwrecks they induced. In the industrializing world …

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Body

It is increasingly impossible to think of the problem of waste, or discarded and denigrated materials, separately from the problem of race, or discarded and denigrated people. There are at least two ways to think about this association: in terms of proximity or consubstantiality and in terms of resemblance or metaphorical substitution. On the one hand, people and communities of …

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Beauty

In the late 1990s, a group of Japanese researchers set out to investigate whether small-scale gold mining operations near the shores of East Africa’s Lake Victoria were resulting in mercury contamination of local fish and human populations. The group included Dr. Masazumi Harada who began his medical career in the early 1960s by studying the devastating effects of severe mercury …

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Dust

The building pictured below sat near Mack Avenue on Detroit’s far east side and, according to the municipal government, was an environmental hazard. Following years of complaints from area residents that the structure smelled of rotting garbage and attracted criminal activity, the building is slated for demolition. In mid-2017, a fifty-five-ton excavator piloted by a human operator knocked down the …

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Residue

Waste and toxicity are foundational categories of knowledge for the Anthropocene. Consider how natural scientists approach the topic. Empirically, the “great acceleration” they’ve identified corresponds to a massive increase in human-generated wastes: carbon molecules, toxic chemicals, radioactive particles, plastics, and much more. Measuring molecular concentrations of these materials, and mapping these measurements onto models of earth systems (such as the …

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Drift

The ocean has long been considered the ideal location for the disposal of waste—including, among many other things, treated and untreated sewage poured easily into the sea, the vast quantities of sand and earth displaced into continental margins by harbor dredging, and the irredeemable byproducts of nuclear reactions secretly sunk. The ocean’s vastness, viscerally encountered and culturally reproduced, has seemed …

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