Discard, Emotions, and Empathy on the Margins of the Waste Stream

  • Anthony P. GraeschEmail author
  • Corbin Maynard
  • Avery Thomas


The objects we choose to throw away, and how we discard those objects, can reveal much about materiality and the material basis of capitalism in the twenty-first century. This chapter explores how analyses of the assemblages and locations of recent illegal dumping events illuminate tensions between structural forces, the ways we relate to our possessions, and the motivations prompting the severance of those relationships. Using data gathered during a faculty-student research project addressing contemporary surface assemblages, we also examine the emotive capacities of illegally discarded belongings. With an analytic emphasis on intact assemblages, we argue that acknowledging the emotional contours of unsanctioned discard not only complements methodologically rigorous, data-driven archaeologies of the contemporary but also provides a forum for grappling with fieldworkers’ affective responses to handling culturally familiar objects. Such responses, in turn, can help to cultivate deeper-seated empathy and respect for non-Western connections to objects, space, and place in other archaeological research contexts.


Discard Emotion Contemporary archaeology Waste stream Illegal dumping Empathy 



This faculty-student research was generously supported by a Research Matters Grant, a ConnSSHARP Fellowship, the Office of the Dean of Faculty, and the Department of Anthropology at Connecticut College. We are grateful to the employees at the Town of Waterford Public Works Department, the Town of East Lyme Transfer Station, and the Town of Montville Transfer Station for indulging our many questions and patiently discussing the nuances of illegal garbage dumping behavior. Objects and materials collected from illegal dump sites for laboratory analysis were ultimately returned to the waste stream. Morgan Kleyweg ‘17 enthusiastically helped with early project planning as well as cataloging the many finds from Site 2. We thank our colleagues for enduring numerous conversations about discard and the emotional experience of writing about emotion in discard. We are deeply appreciative of the editors and three anonymous reviewers for constructive critique and helpful suggestions. Of course, we assume all responsibility for any incoherency, errors, or omissions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony P. Graesch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Corbin Maynard
    • 1
  • Avery Thomas
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyConnecticut CollegeNew LondonUSA

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