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What is Waste?

What is waste? Give me your definition of waste and I will tell you who you are. In the eyes of the circular economist, waste is a resource and can become part of a sustainable future. The anthropologist would argue that what we consider waste depends on notions of dirtiness and impurity and that tells us something about cultures. The philosopher is concerned with the being itself of waste and asks if there something like a “waste thing”, and if so, how we can distinguish it from a non-waste thing. The geographer will point out that conceptualizations of waste also depend on whether waste is kept out of sight (typical for the Global North) or whether people are forced to live with and of it (typical for the Global South). The marine biologist, on the other hand, has no problem defining waste and finds it everywhere in the form of (micro)plastics that haunt sea life. In short, what we take waste to be, also depends on our disciplinary backgrounds.

Although we are hard-pressed to find one definition of waste to rule them all, this should not keep us from posing the question: what is waste? Not only does this question lay bare both (hidden) assumptions and blind spots within the different disciplines, but taken together an interdisciplinary approach might also point us in the direction of shared characteristics, a thread that runs through all disciplines and tells another story. Waste refers to the unwanted, the useless, the repressed, in short: to things (and people) that are denied place and time, but that persist nonetheless and demand our attention.

Waste will not go away and has started to force our thought. How to listen to what it has to say? In this Studio, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to waste and explore it from a historical, cultural, and theoretical perspective. We will also ask if it can function as a critical tool to reflect on dominant ideologies, such as consumer capitalism in general and circular economy in particular.

Group assignment

In the second half of the studio, the ball is in your court and you will work on a project in small groups. In groups of 3-4 students will choose one of the four proposed projects that address waste in very different ways.

  1. Waste in popular culture. How is waste imagined in popular culture (such as WALL.E, the plastic bag in American Beauty and Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things) and what does that tell us?
  2. Waste as a critical tool. How can waste be used to critically reflect on dominant ideology, such as the dream of a circular economy without remainders?
  3. The definition of waste. How come a clear-cut concept of waste is so hard to come by? Take an interdisciplinary approach in answering this question and in doing so also reflect on interdisciplinarity as such.
  4. Waste from a non-Western perspective. Is waste a Western thing? Recent studies in waste theory suggest conceptualizations of waste are too much Global North-centered. What would a Global South-perspective look like?

The results of these projects are presented in the end, either in the form of a podcast, a (series of) vlogs/blogs, a short film, or another form that suits the purpose. If all groups agree to this, the results could also be presented at a symposium. In that case, the results could also be presented in poetry, performances and music, among others. In addition to this, all groups hand in a written reflection (1500-2000 words) on their presentation.


  • Lisa Doeland (Philosophy)
  • Floor Binkhorst (Radboud Honours Academy)


To be announced

Description of the meetings

The meetings take place on Tuesday evenings. The meetings start at 18:30 hrs. until 21:00 hrs.

Meeting 1. September 22

Introduction into the theme and explanation group assignment

Meeting 2. September 29

To be announced

Meeting 3. October 6

To be announced

Meeting 4. November 3

To be announced

Meeting 5. November 10

Workshop interdisciplinary group work

Working on the group assignment

Meeting 6. November 17

Working on the group assignment

Meeting 7. November 24

Working on the group assignment

Meeting 8. December 1

Working on the group assignment

Meeting 9. December 8

Working on the group assignment

Meeting 10. December 15

Presenting group assignment


To be announced