Assa Doron | Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India

Reading - Nonfiction | March 16 | 12-2 p.m. | Stephens Hall, 10 (ISAS Conf. Room)

 Assa Doron, Associate Professor, Anthropology & South Asia, School of Culture, History & Language ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

 Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology and of South & Southeast Asian Studies

 Institute for South Asia Studies, Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies, Department of Anthropology, Institute of Urban and Regional Development

A talk by anthropologist Dr. Assa Doron, associate professor of anthropology at ANU on Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India, his forthcoming co-authored publication on India’s waste, both liquid and solid, and the physical and institutional infrastructures that handle it--or fail to.

About the Book
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.

Speaker Bio
Assa Doron's main areas of interest include, urban anthropology, development studies, the environment, and media and technology. Much of his anthropological fieldwork was carried in Varanasi where he focused on the ritual economy of the river and questions of caste and identity politics in India. The study was published in the book, Life on the Ganga, (Cambridge, 2013). Doron's collaboration with Robin Jeffrey led to a book on the mobile phone revolution in India, titled, The Great Indian Phone Book (Harvard UP/C. Hurst, 2013), published in India under the title Cellphone Nation: how the mass mobile changes business, politics and daily life. The book received wide media coverage and favourable reviews in outlets such as, The Economist, Bloomberg, India Today, Times Higher Education, The Wall Street Journal, LA Review of Books, Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), LSE Review of Books, The Australian, and SMH as well as in various academic journals.

Doron & Jeffrey's forthcoming book, Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India, is due out in early 2018 (Harvard University Press).

Assa Doron was also the Founding Director of the South Asia Research Institute at ANU until 2017. (

Read more about Prof. Doron at his Faculty Page

Event made possible with the support of the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies

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