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Honoursmodule: What We Talk About When We Talk About Waste

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Lisa Doeland

Entry requirements 

Second and Third year bachelor students participating in an honours programme.

Recommended prior knowledge


Learning Objectives

At the end of the course the student can:

  • Explain key theoretical approaches to waste.
  • Analyze waste from the perspective of one’s own discipline.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of conceptualizations if waste from different disciplines.
  • Critically reflect on the ways in which concepts of waste are historically and culturally situated.
  • Recognize the way in which waste can be used as a critical tool to reflect on dominant ideologies (such as consumer capitalism in general and circular economy in particular).
  • Show insight into imaginations of waste in popular culture and what we can learn from that.
  • Engage with waste things on a more personal, existential level.


What is waste? Give me your definition of waste and I will tell you who you are. In the eyes of the engineer waste is a resource waiting to be recycled again and again. The anthropologist on the other hand is concerned with the ways in which waste refers to conceptions of dirtiness and impurity and explores what this tells us about our cultures. The philosopher is concerned with the being itself of waste and asks if there something like a “waste thing”, and if so, how we can distinguish it from a non-waste thing. The geographer will point out that conceptualizations of waste also depend on whether waste is kept out of sight (typical for the Global North) or whether people are forced to live with and of it (typical for the Global South). The marine biologist on the other hand has no problem defining waste and finds it everywhere in the form of (micro)plastics that haunt sea life. In short, what we take waste to be also depends on our disciplinary backgrounds.

Although we are hard-pressed to find one definition of waste to rule them all, this should not keep us from posing the question: what is waste? Not only does this question lay bare both (hidden) assumptions and blind spots within the different disciplines, but taken together an interdisciplinary approach might also points us in the direction of shared characteristics, a thread that runs through all of them and tells another story. Waste refers to the unwanted, the useless, the repressed, in short: to things (and people) that are denied place and time, but that persist nonetheless and demand our attention. Waste will not go away and has started to force our thought. How to listen to what it has to say?

Teaching method

  • Lecture
  • Seminar
  • Presentation/Symposium
  • Selfstudy
  • Work independently on project
  • Guidance and feedback moment


  • Write a short reflection (400-600 words) on waste from the perspective of your own discipline, week 1. (10%)
  • Every week two students make a short podcast (5 min) or write a short essay (250-500 words) in which a waste thing takes central stage. Students are encouraged to reflect on a range of waste things and to experiment with different perspectives (does the banana peel itself speak? Or does the waste bin in which it is deposited?). Note: if students want to use another medium (a vlog, a short story, an opinion piece, et cetera) they are invited to do so, but please discuss first. The short podcasts/essays are presented and discussed at the beginning of class. (20%)  
  • Write an extended reflection (1200-1500 words) on waste from the perspective of your own discipline. In your reflection draw on the (academic) literature already provided and also refer to other relevant secondary literature, week 7 (20%)
  • Student Devised Assessment to be presented at a Symposium. Students engage with topics covered during the course, presenting at the symposium a reflection that can take various forms (reading, performance, film, poetry, music, et cetera). Together with the presentation at the symposium, a reflection on why this form is chosen and how this relates to the course is handed in. (50%)

Study material:

A list of mandatory study material (academic articles) will be made available at the start of the module in the course overview. A list of recommended study material will also include non-academic material, such as literature, artworks and podcasts.

Min/max participants



The schedule will be available on Datanose .


Registration is possible for 2nd year (or higher) students participating in an Honours programme. The registration for the Honours courses will start on June 4, 10 am -  June 8, 11 pm, You can register through the online registration form that will appear on Honoursmodules IIS.

Placement will be at random and within two weeks students will hear whether they are placed for a course. 

There is no guarantee for placement if you register after June 8, so make sure you apply on time! 

For questions: please contact Honours-iis@uva.nl 

The IIS strives to reflect current societal issues and challenges in the educational offer and attempts to integrate the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) in this course. For more information about these goals, please visit the SDG's website.

Facts & Figures
Mode Honours programme
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in September