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The Sanitary City: Waste, Infrastructure, and Urban Development

Semester and Year SP 2019
Course Number IDSEM-UG1997
Section 001
Instructor Mohammed Rafi Arefin
Days F
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   SOC, GLOBAL


Section 002 for Environmental Studies majors only.


Contemporary cities are caught in a messy contradiction—modern modes of production are creating unprecedented amounts of waste that challenge expectations of clean and sanitary cities. Yet, the struggles this contradiction produce frequently go unnoticed because the people, laws and practices, technology, and labor that go into cleaning cities are relegated to the underbelly of urban life. Beginning with the argument that waste is not merely a problem awaiting the properly coordinated technological fix, this course will approach waste and the infrastructures set up to manage it as political. Urban spaces that are left unsanitary and those that are kept clean point not just to failures of sanitation, but also to explicit valuations of objects, people, and practices in urban space. In this course we will develop a set of interdisciplinary tools from discard studies, critical infrastructure studies, and urban geography to ask questions like: Who is tasked with the work of cleaning the city? How are contemporary ideas of cleanliness structured by colonial, racialized, classed, and gendered urban histories? How is sanitation enforced and contested? And how has sanitation contributed to uneven urbanization? We will examine such questions in cities including Cairo, New York, Beirut, Delhi, Cape Town, London, and Paris. Readings will be drawn from scholars including Martin Melosi, Sarah Moore, Brenda Chalfin, Vinay Gidwani, Matthew Gandy, Colin McFarlane, Robin Nagle, Rosalind Fredericks, and Melanie Samson.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)