My most recent book, Picking Up, is an ethnography of New York City’s Department of Sanitation. It’s based on a decade of work with the Department, which included time on the job as a uniformed sanitation worker.
As a clinical professor of anthropology and environmental studies in New York University’s School of Liberal Studies, my research fits within the new interdisciplinary field of discard studies. I consider the category of material culture known generically as waste, with a specific emphasis on the infrastructures and organizational demands that municipal garbage imposes on urban areas. Within this broad perspective, I’m especially interested in the people, history, and politics that are always inherent to labors of waste, and in the many ways that the form of waste we call garbage is implicated in every contemporary environmental crisis. I also consider mechanisms of evaluation that determine how and when a particular example of material culture is defined as “trash” and the varied consequences, in many contexts, of such a definition. [For a quick overview of and more detail about my work, see my TED talk.]
Since 2006 I have been the DSNY’s anthropologist-in-residence, an unsalaried position structured around several projects. I’m collaborating with colleagues at Sanitation, at NYU, and elsewhere to create a DSNY Oral History and to establish a Museum of Sanitation. These are works in progress.
Reach me at email@example.com. Twitter & Instagram: @rznagle