Histories of the Dustheap

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Histories of the Dustheap

Waste, Material Cultures, Social Justice

Edited by Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini

An examination of how garbage reveals the relationships between the global and the local, the economic and the ecological, and the historical and the contemporary.





An examination of how garbage reveals the relationships between the global and the local, the economic and the ecological, and the historical and the contemporary.

Garbage, considered both materially and culturally, elicits mixed responses. Our responsibility toward the objects we love and then discard is entangled with our responsibility toward the systems that make those objects. Histories of the Dustheap uses garbage, waste, and refuse to investigate the relationships between various systems—the local and the global, the economic and the ecological, the historical and the contemporary—and shows how this most democratic reality produces identities, social relations, and policies.

The contributors first consider garbage in subjective terms, examining “toxic autobiography” by residents of Love Canal, the intersection of public health and women's rights, and enviroblogging. They explore the importance of place, with studies of post-Katrina soil contamination in New Orleans, e-waste disposal in Bloomington, Indiana, and garbage on Mount Everest. And finally, they look at cultural contradictions as objects hover between waste and desirability, examining Milwaukee's efforts to sell its sludge as fertilizer, the plastics industry's attempt to wrap plastic bottles and bags in the mantle of freedom of choice, and the idea of obsolescence in the animated film The Brave Little Toaster.

Histories of the Dustheap offers a range of perspectives on a variety of incarnations of garbage, inviting the reader to consider garbage in a way that goes beyond the common “buy green” discourse that empowers individuals while limiting environmental activism to consumerist practices.


$50.00 X ISBN: 9780262017992 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 map, 2 tables


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262517829 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 map, 2 tables


Stephanie Foote

Stephanie Foote is Associate Professor of English and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana andChampaign and the author of Regional Fictions.

Elizabeth Mazzolini

Elizabeth Mazzolini is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Tech.


  • The editors of this volume have done a remarkable job of framing the collection in a coherent and engaging fashion and choosing contributions that come together and build on each other quite well. Foote and Mazzolini also offer a substantive and creative Introduction and Conclusion that expand on the major points of the book and present new and exciting questions and productive directions for environmental studies.

    Human Ecology


  • Histories of the Dustheap is a major step forward in critical environmental studies. This collection of original essays powerfully articulates a multidisciplinary framework that challenges and changes the terms of discussion and debate with respect to how we think about and relate to waste as a social category. Stephanie Foote and Elizabeth Mazzolini have produced a volume that will soon become a part of the environmental studies canon.

    David Naguib Pellow

    Don A. Martindale Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota; author of Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice

  • Fascinating contributor case studies move from poorly designed nineteenth-century privies to twenty-first- century concerns over e-waste, toxic sludge, and trash accumulating on the world's tallest mountain. Together these lively essays illustrate why hyper-attention to proliferating plastic shopping bags and empty soda cans may obscure larger problems with production and distribution systems that rely on packaging and long distance transport. More important, this book authoritatively explicates the links between deepening environmental injustices and structural inequalities and illustrates why study of trash is as critical for academics as it is for activists.

    Joni Adamson

    author of American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism: The Middle Place

  • Histories of the Dustheap is refreshing and thought-provoking. It fits nicely into a genre of work that confronts waste issues from a broad cultural perspective. I like the variety of points of view in this volume that cross over several disciplines without fitting too neatly into any category. This is an accessible book that will find many readers.

    Martin V. Melosi

    author of The Sanitary City and Garbage in the Cities