4. 1. 2022

‘Who Else Would Do This Work?’: Paradox of the Category of ‘Human Waste’ presentation at 2021 AAA Annual Meeting

Barbora presented a paper at the 2021 AAA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, USA. November 17–21, 2021.


“Who Else Would Do This Work?”: Paradox of the Category of “Human Waste”


Barbora Stehlíková


In this paper, I want to show the paradoxical double-edged nature of the metaphor of “human waste” or “wasted humans” made visible by Bauman (2004). On the employment of people with disabilities, I want to demonstrate the acceptance of this metaphor and simultaneously its refusal at both theoretical and empirical levels. Roughly the third of all companies that treat electric and electronic waste in the Czech Republic are sheltered workshops that employ people with disabilities. The reduced working capacity exacerbates access to the job market of these people and limits their opportunities to get employed. Due to the insecure opportunities for employment, these people are on the edge of being seen as “human waste”. However, working in the sheltered workshops (chráněná dílna), they are called “protégés” (chráněnci) by the company managers. An emphasis on protection and care prevents the notions of humans as waste to emerge. I want to address two issues. First, I ask what implications the use of “human waste” metaphor and the term “protégé” can have and how they relate to each other. Second, following the scholarship on the reconceptualization of “human waste”, I critically interrogate the analytical shortcomings of this metaphor and the moral and ethical risks it brings Based on my ethnographic fieldwork from the e-waste processing company in the Czech Republic, I describe people with disabilities who resist being categorized as waste by discursive tools of protection and care and their work in waste disposal.


More info about the conference here.