Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


VIRTUAL EVENT: IAS Growth/Waste - Wasteful metabolisms and the predicaments of growth in Africa

23 September 2020–24 September 2020, 3:30 pm–5:00 pm

wasteful metabolism 1

A closed seminar supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Department of STS, UCL

This event is free.

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Noémi Tousignant (STS, UCL), Véra Ehrenstein (IAS, UCL)

This workshop focuses on the theme of metabolism, growth and waste in Africa. Through the lens of waste, we aim to re-examine projects of metabolic survival and optimisation in/from a continent where growth – of children, crops, forests or economies – has often been fragile and problematically framed.

Metabolism: The ubiquity of carbon talk in the Anthropocene draws together scales and modes of energy/waste generation from forests to jet engines, cities to cow guts. Metabolism – applied literally or metaphorically – calls attention to echoes and interpenetrations, between and within forms of life and nonlife (molecule, organism, ecosystem, economy) and across locations.

Africa/growth: Africa has often been described as a continent of extreme deficiency, vulnerability, dissipation, predation and excess. Growth is a persistent preoccupation, driving sometimes grandiose plans for development but also laborious struggles for nutrition and protection.

Waste: Derived from vastus, a Latin word meaning unoccupied and uncultivated, waste points both to the injunction ‘you shall develop’ and to missed opportunities, ‘such a waste’, so often projected on African economies, landscapes and lives. It illuminates hubris, futility and slow violence in projects of engineered growth, but also the risky entanglements of efforts to live better together. We use waste here as an index of metabolic dysfunction, as defined in ambitions for growth (e.g. prone to wasting, wastefulness, inefficiency, exhaustion, or surfeit), and of various by-products, from added value to toxic debris, of metabolic processes and projects.

This event brings together scholars from anthropology, history, geography, literary studies, nutrition and sociology. Participants include: Sandra Calkins (Max Planck, Berlin), Thomas Cousins (Oxford), Treasa De Loughry (University College Dublin), Carlos Grijalva Eternod (UCL), Mish Nkhata (UCL), Branwyn Poleykett (Exeter), Tatiana Thieme (UCL), Megan Vaughan (UCL), Miriam Waltz (Aarhus University)