An anthropological engagement with waste begins, of course, with Mary Douglas’ (2003[1966]) pivotal insight that dirt or waste is not an objective quality of things in the world. Waste is never waste in itself, but a product of our impulse to order and classify. In Douglas’ structuralist-symbolic approach, acts of disposal give expression to a symbolic order. More recent approaches to waste have brought its materiality further into focus. Productive lines of inquiry are, for instance, to explore how objects may lose and later regain value or become a new source of profit (Hawkins and Muecke 2002) or to examine how waste materialities affect the world (Reno 2015). Reiterating Douglas’ (2003[1966]: 2) statement that ‘[t]here is no such thing as absolute dirt’, we consider waste, waste management, and wastefulness as phenomena that can best be studied by considering both their material realities and metaphorical dimensions. As the proliferation of discarded face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, even the most feeble litter may be examined for its symbolic, material, economic, political, or spatiotemporal qualities.

For the upcoming issue of Etnofoor, we invite authors to engage with questions revolving around different types of waste. First, we call for reflections on the superfluous, on people or things that are considered to be surplus, redundant or excessive. Zygmunt Bauman’s Wasted Lives (2004) is perhaps the most clear example of scholarly work that examines the potential of human lives to become ‘waste’, arguing that modernization produces excess populations that have no place in the global economic system. Yet here we might also think of the opposite, of scrutinizing wastefulness, abundance, and consumptive lifestyles.

Second, we invite explorations of the disposed and the discarded that deal more directly with waste management. Where do waste streams originate and end? Who produces waste, who processes it, where is waste shipped to, dumped or burned, and how should we understand such political economies of waste? Yet the old maxim also tells us that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. So how are practices such as recycling, repair, maintenance, reuse, or dumpster diving reflective of ideas on waste and value?

Third, we are interested in analyses of remnants, of that which remains. Here, we think of military waste such as mines, bunkers, ruins, wastelands, and other remnants of war that continue to produce military environments for people who live in and around them (Kim 2016). Authors might also consider various forms of bodily waste, such as corpses and the ritualized disposal of human remains, or the body parts, blood, organs, and other residues of medical treatments that might be discarded without the same careful decorum. And, beyond the notion of solid waste, how to think of the burgeoning amount of digital traces, or ‘post-mortem data’ (Kneese 2019), that people leave behind in an online universe, even after their own lives have ended?

Etnofoor invites authors that engage with these or related issues, either in the form of an ethnographic case study or from a methodological or theoretical perspective, to submit an abstract of no more than 200 words to editors@etnofoor.nl before March 8, 2021. We also welcome creative contributions, such as photo essays. The deadline for authors of accepted abstracts to submit their full papers is June 15, 2021.


Bauman, Zygmunt
2004 Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Douglas, Mary
2003[1966] Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.

Hawkins, Gay and Stephen Muecke.
2002 Culture and Waste: The Creation and Destruction of Value. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Kim, Eleana J.
2016 Toward an Anthropology of Landmines: Rogue Infrastructure and Military Waste in the Korean DMZ. Cultural Anthropology 31(2): 162-187.

Kneese, Tamara
2019 Networked Heirlooms: The Affective and Financial Logics of Digital Estate Planning. Cultural Studies 33(2): 297-324.

Reno, Joshua
2015 Waste and Waste Management. Annual Review of Anthropology 44(1): 557-572.