The anatomy of a dumpster: abject capital and the looking glass of value

Giles, David Boarder 2014, The anatomy of a dumpster: abject capital and the looking glass of value, Social text, vol. 32, no. 1 118, Spring 2014, pp. 93-113, doi: 10.1215/01642472-2391351.

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Title The anatomy of a dumpster: abject capital and the looking glass of value
Author(s) Giles, David BoarderORCID iD for Giles, David Boarder
Journal name Social text
Volume number 32
Issue number 1 118
Season Spring 2014
Start page 93
End page 113
Total pages 21
Publisher Duke University Press
Place of publication Durham, N.C.
Publication date 2014
ISSN 0164-2472
Summary This essay explores the cultural economy of commercial waste. Drawing from ethnographic research with Dumpster divers in Seattle, Washington, and other cities with comparable waste streams, it explores the ways in which waste may constitute a distinct cultural-economic logic with the capacity to produce value. In particular, I argue that massive quantities of unspoiled food and other discarded commercial goods with persistent use values constitute a kind of abject capital, the economic significance of which is precisely that it is removed from circulation. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s description of the nature of political exclusion, and Julia Kristeva’s work on abjection, I locate this abject capital at the intersection of cultural logics of capitalist exchange and consumer aesthetics. Quarantined in exceptional spaces like the retail or wholesale Dumpster, its economic and cultural value is paradoxically evacuated and preserved in the imprint of its absence from the market and as such is conferred upon those goods remaining upon the shelves. Exception and abjection, therefore, respectively describe the biopolitical and affective dimensions of waste and the preconditions of commodity exchange. I conclude that abject capital may thereby constitute both a functional boundary to capital and a threshold for the inception of those forms of life, such as Dumpster diving and squatting, that are anathema to the dominant market calculus.
Language eng
DOI 10.1215/01642472-2391351
Field of Research 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology
200204 Cultural Theory
200203 Consumption and Everyday Life
MD Multidisciplinary
Socio Economic Objective 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
Copyright notice ©2014, Duke University Press
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