Labor Laid Waste: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Waste Work

Research paper by Jacob Doherty, Kate Brown

Indexed on: 06 May '20Published on: 01 Apr '19Published in: International labor and working class history


Waste studies brings to labor history a suite of conceptual tools to think about precarious labor, human capital, migration, the material quality of labor in urban and rural infrastructures, and the porosity and interchangeability of workers’ bodies in the toxic environments in which they labor. In this introduction, we explore the conceptual insights that the study of waste offers for the field of labor history, and what, in turn, a focus on labor history affords to social science research on waste. We examine the relationship between surplus populations and surplus materials, the location of waste work at the ambiguous fulcrum of trash and value, and the significance of labor for the understanding of infrastructure.