Wasted Humans and Garbage Animals: Deadly Transcorporeality and Documentary Activism

  • Chia-ju Chang


The juxtaposition of these two terms—garbage and animal—has a long material history that can be traced back to medieval gastronomic practices and tastes in the West. The material and symbolic entanglements of garbage and animal justify a further cross-examination between waste studies and critical animal studies and a two-edged cross-intervention into two devastating problems we are facing in the age of the Capitalocene: garbage and anthropocentric speciesism. Such a fusion of two terms articulates a vocabulary and a new conceptual frame for critical animal studies. “Garbage animal studies” provides an ecocritical theoretical frame for envisioning a type of practice under the nascent environmental humanities or, more appropriately, “naturecultural studies.” In this chapter, I use “garbage animal” as a nodal point to intersect waste studies, animal studies, and documentary film studies. I attempt to elucidate a theory of garbage animal and theorise a genre of garbage animal documentary as a form of redemption. I particularly focus on Kunal Vohra’s documentary The Plastic Cow, which discusses the way India’s modernisation has affected their sacred cow. Terms such as “the plastic cow” in India or “garbage goat” in China serve as a synecdoche designating urban roaming animals eating plastic bags and waste found on the streets. The documentaries address the “garbage animal” issue in globalised modernity, which serve as visual evidence of slow violence against non-human animal bodies and the body of the earth.


Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Documentary Film Environmental Injustice Sanitary Worker Public Interest Litigation 
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© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chia-ju Chang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Modern Languages and LiteraturesBrooklyn CollegeNew YorkUSA

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