Calendar | Conference

Mary Douglas in Contemporary Context: Waste, Discard, and Danger

Vilnius, 15 - 16 August 2024

Recent years have witnessed an increased concern with theoretical and practical issues surrounding the ever-increasing global production of waste: plastics, “forever chemicals,” digital waste, orbital debris, and high-level nuclear waste. Under the rubric of “discard and waste studies,” the question of what is waste, what the production of waste reveals about our culture, and how to fathom the epic temporality of modern waste, in the most extreme instances, as with plastics and nuclear waste, exceeding tens of thousands of years, have become vital focal points of inquiry. These and other kindred questions are inseparable from established debates concerning environmental justice, sustainability, and responsibility. Indeed, once the problem of waste enters into sharper focus, this nexus of pressing environmental questions can be seen as intersecting across multiple disciplines, including sociology, history, geology, legal studies, politics, and philosophy. 

Among the plethora of concepts and issues within this expansive mantle of concern, the question of what constitutes danger, of how societies identify, or fail to identify, manage, or mismanage, dangers is surely critical and yet, surprisingly, less well studied and understood.  Although there exists an established discourse on the sociology of risk and existential risk, there exists comparatively little discussion of how dangers are configured within a system of classification: why are some phenomena perceived as more or less dangerous than others? How are dangers produced by technology, and how are such dangers often hidden or obscured by either the technology itself and/or social values and frames of perception? There is often an epistemology of ignorance – where ignorance or denial is produced by forms and institutions of knowledge – that accompanies the social production of waste. These and other related questions point to a new field of study – the study of dangers – that proves central to any account of environmental justice and responsibility. How must our modern form of life change in order to mitigate the pollution of nature and human/animal habitats? What kind of responsibility exists for the waste and garbage that, in many instances, will long outlast our present culture? What kind of political and security challenges are posed by the management of waste? What forms of forgetting are endemic to the social production of garbage, whereby our consciousness (and conscientiousness) of leading such wasteful lives becomes itself “disposed” with the unthinking disposal of trash? 

The aim of this workshop is to organize and provoke discussion and debate on these essential questions. As an indispensable reference for this discourse is the foundational work in the anthropology of danger and pollution, Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger, which this workshop seeks to recover and reconceptualize from the standpoint of contemporary discard studies and environmental justice. 



Applications for the workshop are expected until April 30th. Please attach your academic CV to the application.

Scholars interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit an abstract of ca. 300 words, by April 30, 2024.

Please submit applications to the following

Notification of acceptance will be issued by the 15th of May.

Registration fee: 6eur and 40 eur for students.

Participants should cover their own travel expenses and accommodation fees.


Organizing committee

Tomas Šinkūnas (Vilnius University), Mintautas Gutauskas (Vilnius University), Nicolas de Warren (Penn State)

CFP is closed