The Abject in History: Psychoanalysis, Political Economy, and Waste in Archives

Authors: Mohammed Arefin*, New York University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: waste, psychoanalysis, political ecology, historical methods, Cairo
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper I examine the difficulty of studying waste through historical methods. Historical documents often reveal waste’s management, but necessarily exclude the emotional, unconscious, and affective dimensions of waste itself. This poses a challenge for urban and historical political ecologists trying to account for the abject in urban history. Here, I develop a psychoanalytically informed historical method for urban political ecology using the concepts of anxiety and abjection. I argue that these concepts shed light onto important subjects of archival research for the study of waste. To develop this method, I review debates in history and geography about the role of psychoanalysis in historical theory and methods. From this review, I demonstrate the utility of psychoanalytic concepts from my own historical research experience on the development and contestation of Cairo’s sanitation system from the 20th century to the present.

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