Past Event

Lydia Gibson - Plastic Value: a Calculus of Use, Value, Power, and Order Through Single-use Plastics

September 13, 2023
2:10 PM - 4:00 PM
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Schermerhorn Extension (Room 963), Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York

Event Description

Single-use plastics are scourges upon the environment and humanity; glossy, neoliberal insurgencies that choke the life out of marine animals, livestock, waterways, and impoverished communities. They are also, though, a discursive-material apparatus for determining value. Single-use plastics is not a material type, it is a racialized classificatory system that obscures and collapses notions of use and value by rendering plastic engagements hyper- or invisible. The very term single-use plastics is an eponym of erasure, occluding its multiple uses by many who rely upon these adaptable – if mismanaged – technologies and discursively legitimizing or condemning the material forms that these polymer agents take. The moniker serves, too, as an inadvertent description of racial capitalism: the plastic, mouldable nature of economic relations and the single, undistinguished use of one or another disposable body. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork of forest-based traditions in a remote Maroon community in the Caribbean, where multiple and repeated use of single-use plastics rather than portend cultural destruction enables traditional practices and maintains social networks, this talk explores analytical constructions of value and the semiotic squares, rectilinear logics, and turgid dispositifs that have imprisoned concepts such as value, use, and power. 

Event Speaker

Lydia Gibson, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Center for Science and Society

Event Information

Free and open to the public. No registration required. For more information, please visit the event webpage. Hosted by the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University.