When Gregory Wessner introduced Robin Nagle at Open House New York's ongoing " Getting To Zero" lecture and event series about waste in NYC on May 1st, he said she was the first person to think of when someone mentions garbage. I couldn't have agreed more, even though my memory had failed me before.
I had been so excited to learn there was an anthropologist in residence at the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY), a clinical professor for environmental studies at NYU who also was a sanitation worker and wrote a wonderful book about it called "Picking Up", and Robin Nagle immediately got a place on top of my interview bucket list.
But then all those lists in my head shifted, as they constantly do, and I forgot. Nothing lasts, you might think. But just as garbage doesn't cease to exist just because it was picked up from the curb in front of your home (as you will be reminded of in the interview that will follow below), memory isn't erased either.
I was sitting unassumingly in the subway when it hit me. The woman who until a few seconds ago had been sitting across from me was someone I would have been thrilled to talk to! I'd noticed she was wearing a green jacket, with a name and something else embroidered on it, in the style of a work uniform. I didn't see the name, but even at the quick glance that we allow ourselves on the train, I could clearly see "anthropolog", the rest of it hidden in the shadow of a crease.
I thought of a fashion chain store called Anthropologie, and my mind took me on a trip to a worker uniform fashion show in Paris, where these would be couture and cost a fortune. I realized that was just a fantasy when I glimpsed again while the person wearing that jacket got off the train. This was a real DSNY uniform, and it didn't spell a brand name, but a title. Robin Nagle had been sitting right in front of me, and then she was gone before I could introduce myself.
But this time, I didn't let my memory slip away. I made a formal interview request, and by now you can probably imagine how glad I was when she agreed to meet me. I never told her that we had kind of met before. Quite the story teller, I saved it for last, so that this one particular reader learns something new, too. Everyone who is not Robin Nagle: Learn from her about new ways to think about waste, to deal with it yourself, and to look at the sanitation workers in your street - literally, look at them.
To research New York City's waste, a social scientist might first read, look at data, talk to people. You took it a step further and accompanied sanitation workers. Is this meant to meet the requirements of participatory observation as a method in social anthropology or was it a personal choice?
Robin Nagle: My question was: How do I learn as much as possible? And because I am trained in that particular method and I believe in that method as a way of learning, to me that was an obvious choice. There were two different ways that I did it. One was as you said to accompany, I tagged along. And the other was to take the job and actually be entitled to wear the uniform and do the work myself, and be subject to discipline and have to listen to bosses. This is a way of learning that I was going to try for a particular set of questions.What did you want to learn?
My question was very simple: What is it like, what does it take to be a sanitation worker in New York City today? And even though I was on the job, I was not on the job for twenty or thirty years. So the limits of my ignorance are still vast.How did you get into that job?
About every four years, the department lets it be known that there is going to be a test for sanitation workers. Every time, between 70,000 and 80,000 people sign up. Then you take the test and it is scored, and if you score strong enough, you are eligible to take the physical exam, which I did. And if you pass this, but don't have a commercial driver's license, you are eligible to take the department training. And in between there are lots and lots of other assessments of your strength and well-being. If you pass all of those and then the road test, you are eligible to be offered the job of a sanitation worker.And you went through all those steps?
That is the only way you can get the job, there is no way that I could go to someone and say: Could you put me in that job for a while, please? That would have been illegal, to start with, but also: How could I look at my coworkers and know what they had done to get that job? It would have been a lie.That's a fulltime job. Did you have to pause your academic work for it?
No, I did it both at the same time. Which is one of the reasons why I couldn't stay on the sanitation job as long as I wanted to. The shift was 6 am to 2 pm, and after my shift I would show up at NYU in my sanitation uniform, and then teach. (laughs) I'm sure it was a little confusing for some of my students.Did it affect the interest of your students in any way?
I've always drawn students who are interested in the subject of garbage, waste and urban infrastructure, so I'm not sure that just wearing a uniform made a difference. And I changed once I got here.So among other things, you teach about garbage. What is garbology?
I don't know, because it is not my word and I don't tend to use it. Some colleagues and I have begun to use something called "discard studies". It includes garbage, but it is also a broader idea about practices of waste: What is the social place of waste as a category but also as a behavior, as an economic component of manufacturing?Is "discard studies" an academic term?
Well, it is meant to be more encompassing that just academia. It also includes professionals in the field, activists, artists, journalists, and anyone who's working with any problem that involves any form of waste. How can we combine our knowledge and experiences and theories and ways of considering whatever is the issue, as long as it's related to discards, and then share that with each other? This dynamic is too big to be contained within just academics.What is the goal?
The goal is to make more public, prominent and obvious the really fundamental problems that waste poses, and to think about solving them in a more holistic way by drawing on all these different forms of expertise and wisdom. Garbage is implicated in every environmental crisis we face today. We as individuals and as cities didn't create the commodities that become discards pretty quickly, from plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups all the way up to appliances and cars. We didn't manufacture them, but somehow we are responsible for what happens to them when we're finished with them. That's backwards!And what would be forwards?
One of my goals is to have and encourage a ... >> Weiterlesen im Original!