Binghamton University Dept. of Anthropology Faculty Publications

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Now showing 1 - 5 of 6
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    Toward a New Theory of Waste: from "Matter Out of Place" to Signs of Life
    (Theory, Culture & Society, 2014-09-23) Reno, Joshua
    This paper offers a counterpoint to the prevailing account of waste in the human sciences. This account identifies waste, firstly, as the anomalous product of arbitrary social categorizations, or ‘matter out of place’, and, secondly, as a distinctly human way of leaving behind and interpreting traces, or a mirror of culture. Together, these positions reflect a more or less constructivist and anthropocentric approach. Most commonly, waste is placed within a framework that privileges considerations of meaning over materiality and the threat of death over the perpetuity of life processes. For an alternative I turn to bio-semiotics and cross-species scholarship around the question of the animal. Specifically, the paper asks what theories of waste would look like if instead of taking ‘dirt’ as their starting point, they began with trans-species encounters with animal scat. Following bio-semiotics and efforts to deconstruct the animal/human binary, it is suggested that the objectual forms commonly referred to as ‘waste’ are not arbitrarily classified but purposefully expended, and thus symptomatic of life’s spatio-temporal continuation. Waste matter, therefore, is best construed not as anthropocentric but as semi-biotic: a sign of the form of life to which it once belonged. This alternative perspective has implications for how approaches to industrial forms of mass waste can be reconceived.
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    Technically Speaking: On Equipping and Evaluating “Unnatural” Language Learners
    (American Anthropologist, 2012-09) Reno, Joshua
    This article compares different communicative trials for apes in captivity and children with autism in order to investigate how ideological assumptions about linguistic agency and impairment are constructed and challenged in practice. To the extent that Euro-American techniques of “unnatural” language instruction developed during the Cold War era have been successful, it is because communicative interactions are broken down into basic components, and would-be language learners are equipped with materials, devices, and habits that make up for their distinct bio/social deficits. Such linguistic equipment can present a challenge to the ideological presumption of a subject inherently gifted with the rudiments of talk, that is, the human as naturally speaking. However, this ideology can reassert itself if the active contribution of unnatural language learners to their technoscientific trials is downplayed. In order to counter this tendency, I propose that speech acts be reimagined as part of a more encompassing semiotic ensemble.
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    Beyond risk: Emplacement and the production of environmental evidence
    (American Ethnologist, 2011-08) Reno, Joshua
    I offer a counterpoint to the prevailing risk literature that focuses not on (mis)perceptions of danger but on the production and circulation of different forms of evidence and the environmental claims they promote. Rather than reproduce the epistemic dichotomies associated with risk discourse, I discuss attempts by waste-industry technicians, government inspectors, lawyers, area residents, and activists to generate persuasive accounts of a large, U.S. landfill and its porous boundaries. I argue that the differential influence of their various claims is best understood by examining what it means to know and care for a place.
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    MOTIVATED MARKETS: Instruments and Ideologies of Clean Energy in the United Kingdom
    (Cultural Anthropology, 2011-08) Reno, Joshua
    This article examines efforts to reconcile capitalist and ecological values, focusing in particular on the instruments and ideologies that pervade the United Kingdom's developing renewable energy sector. In keeping with neoliberal models of economic knowledge and practice, renewable energy instruments target the motivations of individuals by using incentive programs to reach environmental policy goals. The argument focuses especially on the way newly implemented market devices shape and represent the motivations of energy producers, suppliers, and traders. The centerpiece of the U.K. government's initiative is the creation of an artificial market in renewability, bought and sold as a virtual commodity. Although the realities of economic motivation complicate the practical implementation of the renewable market, these are represented as isolated and self-interested “exchanges” by market devices, providing policymakers and their critics with partial yet authoritative accounts of renewable policy, premised on narrow and contested assumptions about economic motivation and action.
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    Your Trash is Someone's Treasure: the Politics of Value at a Michigan Landfill
    (Journal of Material Culture, 2009-03) Reno, Joshua
    This article discusses scavenging and dumping as alternative approaches to deriving value from rubbish at a large Michigan landfill. Both practices are attuned to the indeterminacy and power of abandoned things, but in different ways. Whereas scavenging relies on acquiring familiarity with an object by getting to know its particular qualities, landfilling and other forms of mass disposal make discards fungible and manipulable by stripping them of their former identities. By way of examining the different ways in which people become invested in the politics of value at the landfill, whether as part of expressions of gender and class or for personal enjoyment, different comportments toward materiality are revealed to have underlying social and moral implications. In particular, it is argued that different approaches to the evaluation of rubbish involve competing understandings of human and material potential.