Institute for Middle East Studies
How do people live in unlivable places? What do the materialities of unlivability have to do with sovereignty, and with how people experience politics and ethics? Based on her forthcoming book, Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins will offer an analysis unusual in the study of Palestine: it begins with the environmental, infrastructural, and aesthetic context in which Palestinians forge their lives, naming that context a “waste siege.” She argues that to speak of waste siege is to describe a series of conditions, from smelling wastes to negotiating military infrastructures, from biopolitical forms of colonial rule to experiences of governmental abandonment, from obvious targets of resistance to confusion over responsibility for the burdensome objects of daily life. The talk focuses on waste as an experience of everyday life that is continuous with, but not a result only of, occupation. Tracing Palestinians’ experiences of wastes over the past decade, and their improvisations for mitigating the effects of this siege, it will consider how multiple authorities governing the West Bank—including municipalities, the Palestinian Authority, international aid organizations, and Israel—rule by waste siege, whether intentionally or not. The talk depicts waste’s constant returns. It thus challenges both common formulations of waste as “matter out of place” and as the ontological opposite of the environment, by suggesting instead that waste siege be understood as an ecology of “matter with no place to go.” Waste siege thus not only describes a stateless Palestine, but also becomes a metaphor for our besieged planet.
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bard College. Her first book, Waste Siege: The Life of Infrastructure in Palestine, was published in 2019 and explores what happens when waste is transformed from matter out of place into matter with no place to go.