Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence

By Joost Van Loon | Go to book overview

6

Cultivating waste

Excessive risks in an economy of opportunities

In this chapter we shall deploy the triad of risk society thesis, Actor Network Theory and biophilosophy to theorize waste. The purpose of theorizing waste is to show how what seems to be merely a ‘side-effect’ of the capitalist political economy not only poses serious problems for the sustainability of life in a capitalist world order, but—in a paradoxical moment—also transforms the very nature of that order into what Beck (1996) referred to as ‘the world risk society’. As waste becomes big business, in terms of both financial and symbolic capital, the logic of ‘goods’ and its associated disciplinary regime become subverted. This creates an ambivalence in which waste itself accumulates, both in terms of valorization and pathogenicity.

The chapter starts with a brief assessment of the relationship between waste and risk, arguing that the inherently excessive nature of risk makes its ‘objectification’ (in science and engineering, as well as commerce and governance) an incredibly volatile process. We then look at how this volatility affects the way in which waste has been politicized in the age of industrial modernity, before focusing on the ‘turning’ towards what shall be referred to as ‘the biopolitics of waste’. This ‘turning’ has affected the way in which technological culture has responded to the risk challenges revealed by technoscience, and has specifically evolved around the commodification of waste. That waste is not just big business is subsequently illustrated by drawing on Nigel Clark’s work on ‘nanotechnology’. Using his critique of some interpretations of the risk society thesis, the chapter concludes with a reconceptualization of ‘waste-risk’ as a virulent abject of modernity, poised to inaugurate a pathogenicity that is at once ephemeral yet deeply disturbing.


Waste and risk

Waste is perhaps the most universal, vulgar and banal example of ecological risks in everyday life. Nearly all ecological risks relate in one way or another to waste, and more specifically pollution. Whether nuclear, genetic or biochemical, ecological risks are materially engendered by pollutant waste objects—atoms, genes, molecules and cells. However, on a more mundane level, waste is

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Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theoretical Framework 17
  • 2 - Cultivating Risks 19
  • 3 - Enrolling Risks in Technocultural Practices 45
  • 4 - Assemblages and Deviations 63
  • 5 - A Theoretical Framework 88
  • Part II - The Four Riders of the Apocalypse 103
  • 6 - Cultivating Waste 105
  • 7 - Emergent Pathogen Virulence 123
  • 8 - Cyberrisks 147
  • 9 - Race, Riots and Risk 169
  • 10 - Conclusion 185
  • References 212
  • Index 227
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