Danubius International Conferences, 6th International Conference on European Integration - Realities and Perspectives

Material Waste, Social Trash, and Stigmatization: A Case Study in Sofia, Bulgaria

Elana Faye Resnick
##manager.scheduler.building##: A Hall
##manager.scheduler.room##: A 36
Date: 2011-05-13 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-05-10


What is the relationship between material waste objects and social identity? How do actual waste objects relate to metaphorical understandings of who is considered society’s “trash”? My research concerns the relationships between waste management, social stigma, and ethnic identity in Sofia, Bulgaria.  I focus on how material objects—categorized in various and often contradictory ways—catalyze social delineations and groupings.  Drawing on literature about race, materiality, exchange, and phenomenology along with regional work on urban environmentalism, EU expansion, and minorities in East Europe, my work addresses these key questions: 1) What are the relationships between waste management, trash objects, and racial categorization? 2) What can investigating “waste” production, collection, storage, circulation, and destruction tell us about the socio-political organization of Bulgaria? 3) How are metaphors of trash (and ideas of social “waste”) related to actual waste objects? 4) How do the substances of waste bear on the people who touch it, collect it, and see it daily?  5) How does Sofia’s rapidly changing city infrastructure effect how waste-pickers are seen, especially in light of how people associated with trash are categorized (by external on-lookers, the state, and themselves)?

Drawing on anthropological approaches to the material world, including Daniel Miller’s work on mass consumption, Val Daniel’s work on substance, Krista Harper and David Pellow’s work on environmental discrimination, and work on the agency of objects (including that of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, Matthew Hull), I address how certain ethnic (i.e. Roma) and social (i.e. elderly, disabled, substance-addicted) positions in Bulgarian society are uniquely shaped by relationships to trash, including the vocabulary of their stigmatization. 

In order to examine relations between social identity and physical “waste” I do the following: (1) investigate the waste management infrastructure in Sofia Bulgaria, historically and currently, (2) track how Roma and non-Roma recycle objects from trash receptacles and circulate or exchange them for money and goods (Carrier 1995; Gill 2009; Latour 1995; Mauss 1932), and (3) study the intersection of waste collection and recycling practices with different kinds of stigmatization and identification practices.