Garbage: Material sediments of the modern in highland Asia

Authors: Nadine Plachta*, South Asia Institute
Topics: Cultural Geography, Mountain Environments, Asia
Keywords: Garbage, Materiality, Mobility, Borderlands, Nepal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Working in Tsum, a Himalayan valley at Nepal’s northern border with Tibet, and returning again and again to the same places, walking along the same routes, and crossing the same pastures, things and materials in their various states of abandonment and decay lying about within the landscape become increasingly visible: Rusty parts of metal roofs, satellite television sets, solar panels, electric butter tea churners, and batteries thrown together with worn-out shoes, beer cans, plastic water bottles, instant noodle wrappers, and food containers, all gathered in unexpected ways, and fading over time under wind and weather. Abandoned to the elements, the debris is a stubborn and swelling thing.

Rather than seeing waste as undesirable and out of place, this paper seeks to critically and productively engage with discarded items. Based on current anthropological takes on garbage, it asks what forms of knowing does waste make possible? What does waste tell us about the politics of everyday life? Abandoned things in Tsum represent new forms of movement and mobility; they reflect shifting values, meaning, and power in a society. But they also embody, unlike quite anything else, the arc of hopes and despair of a modernity to come, a modernity that is uncertain. Abandoned things in Tsum are enmeshed with all sorts of meaning and they are emblematic of the current borderland experience. By focusing on things stumbled upon along the wayside, this presentation explores the very possibility of fundamental change in a Himalayan society through the waste it produces.

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