Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


From plastics in the oceans, to the export of toxic materials, waste is an issue that increasingly attracts public attention as well as demands for political and environmental action. Within the social sciences, writing on waste has clustered around the emergent and growing sub-discipline known as ‘discard studies’. This entry looks at how anthropologists have broached the issue of waste, from a long-standing interest in pollution, to more recent explorations of how humans and waste constitute one another. It is divided into three main anthropological approaches to waste: a symbolic-structuralist approach focused on the relations between order/disorder and the sacred/profane; an economic-materialist approach that is more concerned with waste, value, and the connections and flows between local and global scales; and intersubjective-posthuman approaches that focus on how waste makes people as well as how people make waste. Through fine-grained ethnographies of engagements with waste and theoretical contributions, the anthropology of discards highlights how diverse waste’s materialities and representations really are, and helps to challenge taken-for-granted associations between waste, stigma, and an absence of value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology
Place of PublicationCambridge
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Waste'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this