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Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India

by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey Harvard University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 416 pages
AU$64.99 NZ$69.56
Product Status: In Stock Now
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In India, you can still find the kabaadiwala, the rag-and-bone man. He wanders from house to house buying old newspapers, broken utensils, plastic bottles—anything for which he can get a little cash. This custom persists and recreates itself alongside the new economies and ecologies of consumer capitalism. Waste of a Nation offers an anthropological and historical account of India’s complex relationship with garbage.

Countries around the world struggle to achieve sustainable futures. Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey argue that in India the removal of waste and efforts to reuse it also lay waste to the lives of human beings. At the bottom of the pyramid, people who work with waste are injured and stigmatized as they deal with sewage, toxic chemicals, and rotting garbage.

Terrifying events, such as atmospheric pollution and childhood stunting, that touch even the wealthy and powerful may lead to substantial changes in practices and attitudes toward sanitation. And innovative technology along with more effective local government may bring about limited improvements. But if a clean new India is to emerge as a model for other parts of the world, a “binding morality” that reaches beyond the current environmental crisis will be required. Empathy for marginalized underclasses—Dalits, poor Muslims, landless migrants—who live, almost invisibly, amid waste produced predominantly for the comfort of the better-off will be the critical element in India’s relationship with waste. Solutions will arise at the intersection of the traditional and the cutting-edge, policy and practice, science and spirituality.
“This is a landmark publication providing a comprehensive look at various aspects of ‘waste’ in Indian society and history. I particularly admire the skill with which the authors combine historical, anecdotal, economic, ethnographic, and even technical details to provide an enjoyable read that is, at the same time, deeply instructive.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

Waste of a Nation confronts simplifications and myths about India’s complex culture and its environmental challenges. Doron and Jeffrey have written an ambitious book that provides a very good guide about how one of the world’s most populous nations handles waste in its many manifestations, as well as the all too human consequences.”—Martin V. Melosi, author of Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform, and the Environment and The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present
Assa Doron is Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Anthropology, College of Asia & the Pacific, at the Australian National University.

Robin Jeffrey is Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, and an emeritus professor of La Trobe University (Melbourne) and the Australian National University (Canberra).