Why do I feel like garbage


Laura Moisi

To person

is a cultural scientist and received her doctorate for a thesis on "Ordinary Waste" at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Her research interests include cultural-scientific waste research, the history of political ideas and the connections between gender and inequality. She is currently working on the cultural invisibility of violence in private life and the associated narrative and silent practices.

"Only those who recycle are properly integrated in Germany" - this is the headline of a column by journalist Mohamad Alkhalaf, who fled Syria due to the war, in which he wrote in 2016 for the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" with astonishment about the importance of separating and sorting waste apparently in Germany. Yellow sack, blue bin, organic waste, residual waste - German waste actually requires specific knowledge of separation and classification. This is particularly astonishing because the things that become garbage are initially characterized by the fact that they fall out of belonging - be it symbolically, materially or spatially.

It is precisely this ambivalence of garbage - marginal but omnipresent, fleeting without passing away - that makes garbage perhaps the most prominent problem in western industrial societies. As the "other side of things", as the cultural scientist Sonja Windmüller writes, waste has become a "cultural principle of modernity". [1] After all, almost all areas of daily life are linked to the production, sorting and disposal of garbage. The Italian author Italo Calvino noticed this as early as the 1970s when he declared throwing away to be the first condition of existence. A functioning everyday life would be inconceivable without the daily removal of the rubbish, says Calvino. In "La poubelle agréée", an essay he wrote in Paris from 1974 to 1976, Calvino describes what goes on in him when he empties his "little bucket" from the kitchen into the larger container in front of the house - a ritual that for Calvino "is not an act that I perform thoughtlessly, but something that needs to be considered well and that awakens a special satisfaction in thinking in me". [2] Calvino describes the transfer from one container to another as a transfer of the private into the public, as a final threshold on which the private itself rests. For the writer, the garbage can, clad in military green, symbolizes the social contract that he tacitly enters into with the city in the form of a tax levy. The garbage can confirms his role as a citizen; it makes him part of society. But to the same extent that the category of waste creates social roles and affiliations, it is also involved in forms of exclusion. Waste is not just things that have lost their value or function. What is thrown away also signals rejection, danger and the crossing of boundaries.

The perception of garbage depends on social experiences and cultural evaluations. Concepts of legitimate or illegitimate waste, of dirt and cleanliness have a decisive influence on social conditions and political questions. So it happens that some waste appears to be more or less unnecessary, worthless or dirty - depending on who leaves it behind or under what conditions it is created. While organic waste and compost are now read, for example, as a sign of social responsibility, other types of waste serve to legitimize social boundary markings and exclusions. In order to understand to what extent garbage functions as a structural factor of social inequality, it is first necessary to start with the question of what garbage actually is.