Uncanny Futures: Speculative Ecologies of Waste

Uncanny Futures: Speculative Ecologies of Waste

Sven Bergmann, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research, University of Bremen; Yusif Idies, Institute for Geography, Münster University; Franziska Klaas, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research, University of Bremen
Bremen/ Delmenhorst
Vom - Bis
15.03.2018 - 16.03.2018
Franziska Klaas, Institut für Ethnologie und Kulturwissenschaft, Universität Bremen

Call for Proposals

Uncanny Futures: Speculative Ecologies of Waste

Workshop in Bremen/Delmenhorst, March 15th-16th 2018

In recent years waste has become an increasingly contemplated issue in the humanities and social sciences, as made evident by a plethora of related conferences and an increasing number of books, edited issues, volumes etc. (i.e. for the German-speaking context: Kersten 2016 and Lewe et al. 2016). What counts as waste is highly contested and not evident at all. Dependent on both attributions and allocations as well as material properties, nearly everything can turn into waste and back into something of use.
Building upon that broad consensus, we want to use waste as an entry point to ask more encompassing questions, pointing to fundamental issues at stake. In this way, waste, or rather: litter, garbage, debris might serve as a lens to zoom into past_ current_ future issues and questions of life in the Anthropocene:
How can we make decisions when faced with uncertainty (Murphy 2006)? How does dirt and pollution challenge the concept of reversibility? How to cope with not knowing how different materials behave in the future (Hird 2012), e.g. atmospheric fallout of polyester fibres? What are the consequences of “burying & forgetting” wastes (especially harmful refuses), respectively of maintaining their memory? How do we rethink environmentalism without playing off the environment against waste? How is it that ideas of pollution change over time “from ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas) to allowable limits” (Liboiron 2016)? How can we responsibly challenge recycling as a panacea solving all waste problems to come? And how does recycling serve to de-politicize the handling of waste through pushing individual responsibilities? How do waste and affiliated practices challenge ideas of linearity (Lepawsky and Mather 2011)?
Finally, what are the roles of sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff and Kim 2015) in handling waste, such as cleaning up large amounts of ocean plastics? And how can we link these projects to trans/national efforts of managing and regulating waste and its related issues?

The workshop is part of the research project “Knowing the Seas as Naturecultures” (http://tinyurl.com/natcult-hb) that addresses anthropogenic marine litter not only as waste (that could get separated easily from the water) but something that yet becomes part of the environment. Therefore, we are looking for proposals that engage with or move beyond the strong connection between waste and the (human and non-human) environment. We also invite researchers who tackle related issues.

As we wish the workshop to be a small and focused “discussion-environment”, we are looking forward to contributions and proposals for discussions and more uncommon formats! Nonetheless, short paper-inputs (approx. 10 min.) are welcome as well.
The proposals can cover but are not limited to one of the following topics:

Scaling, (dis-)location, linearity vs. complexity

Concepts of pollution

Not in my body: environmental and/or health issues?

Waste vs. the environment and other dilemmas

Waste, environmental justice and the postcolonial

Micro- and nanoplastics in the oceans

Litter and debris as habitats for biological life-forms

Micro-biopolitics of degradation: bacteria and waste

Toxics: the uncanny valley of micro-waste & emissions

Individualization vs. collectivization of responsibility

Temporalities, slow violence and deep time

The paradoxes of recycling and technospheric mining

Technological fixes: solutions as part of the problem?

Due to the workshop-size/-format, the number of participants is limited. Abstracts should not exceed 300 words and be submitted (together with a short bio) no later than 01.12.2017 in English or German to s.bergmann@uni-bremen.de.

We will notify you about acceptance by the end of December.
Travel expenses may be covered partially in accordance to the workshop-budget and according to access to own resources of participants.


Sven Bergmann, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research, University of Bremen
Yusif Idies, Institute for Geography, Münster University
Franziska Klaas, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research, University of Bremen


Douglas, M. (1966): Purity and Danger. An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.

Hird, M. J. (2012). Knowing Waste: Towards an Inhuman Epistemology. Social Epistemology, 26(3–4), 453–469.

Jasanoff, S. and Kim, S.-H. (2015). Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. University of Chicago Press.

Kersten, J. (ed.) (2016): Inwastement. Abfall in Umwelt und Gesellschaft. Bielefeld: transcript.

Lepawsky, J., and Mather, C. (2011). From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste. Area, 43(3), 242–249.

Lewe, C. et al. (eds.)(2016): Müll. Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf das Übriggebliebene. Bielefeld: transcript.

Liboiron, M. (2016). Redefining pollution and action: The matter of plastics. Journal of Material Culture, 21(1), 87–110.

Murphy, M. (2006). Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience and Women Workers. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press.



Sven Bergmann

Universität Bremen
Institut für Ethnologie und Kulturwissenschaft Fachbereich 9

28359 Bremen


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