Robin Nagle: When the "Away" Becomes Real: Managing Garbage in New York City

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A white garbage truck in front of a concrete wall under an overpass.

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Robin Nagle is the anthropologist-in-residence with New York City's Department of Sanitation. Her book Picking Up, an ethnography of the DSNY, includes accounts of her time on the job as a sanitation worker. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and is a clinical professor at New York University, where she teaches environmental studies, anthropology, and discard studies in the undergraduate Liberal Studies Program and in the Graduate School of Arts and Science.


New Yorkers generate approximately 12,000 tons of household garbage every day. Though only about a third of the city's total (commercial waste and construction debris account for the other two-thirds), it's the category of trash that garners the most public attention. This talk explores some of the history, infrastructures, political controversies, and material consequences of the Big Apple's efforts to grapple with its municipal solid waste—⁠ a steadfastly constant and perpetually shifting challenge.

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