Speculative Archaeology: The Politics of Disaster Debris

Shannon Lee Dawdy, University of Chicago

Tuesday, November 12, 2019, 4:00 pm, Smathers Library 100

The debris pile from 134,000 New Orleans buildings damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is visible from space. Although there was some effort to recycle materials through a little-known global market in demolition debris, most of the rubble amassed in place. In the future, archaeologists might reasonably consider the hurricane landfill a monumental structure. In the 1970s, Bill Rathje boldly suggested that an archaeological approach to contemporary life can reveal things about ourselves that we didn’t know. Modern landfills were his field sites. This talk thinks through Rathje’s garbology and the exceptionalism of disaster sites. Contestations reveal how important the management of debris and its ideological effects are to local and national governments. Trash is political. And politics is an assemblage of the human and the non-human, the intentional and the accidental.​

This lecture is sponsored by the Mellon Intersections Group “Imagineering and the Technosphere” and is free and open to the public.