Waste and Society

Module titleWaste and Society
Module codeGEO3447
Academic year2015/6
Module staff

Professor Caitlin DeSilvey (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module you will explore the social significance of waste, in conceptual, material and cultural contexts. We will examine key themes in recent geographical research on waste, and you will consider how this research draws on broad theoretical frameworks. You will explore how waste is made and handled (household waste and waste management), how waste circulates through global systems (e-waste trade, geopolitics of waste), how wasted places are degraded and reclaimed (environmental remediation, post-industrial dereliction) and how ruined places are assigned cultural and aesthetic value (urban decay, historical appreciation of ruins).

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module draws on a multidisciplinary literature to develop a theoretical framework for the study of key themes and contexts – environmental degradation, urban decay, post-industrial dereliction, recycling and reclamation, social exclusion. Critical analysis of the ethics and aesthetics of waste and wasting is balanced with practical and applied inquiry. You will actively contribute to the content and delivery of the module though the selection of seminar readings and the design of group seminar activities.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Critically analyse the social and cultural aspects of waste spaces and places
  • 2. Review and evaluate, with limited guidance, the key theoretical precepts which underpin interdisciplinary understandings of waste as a cultural phenomenon
  • 3. Competently outline the ways in which different social, political, economic and ecological processes lead to the devaluation and revaluation of certain places
  • 4. Describe the main methodological and ethical issues that attend the conduct of research in contemporary cultural geography
  • 5. Identify key themes in recent geographical research on waste, and the connection to thinking about mobility, materiality, and other theoretical frameworks

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of human geography
  • 7. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 8. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in human geography
  • 9. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within human geography
  • 10. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of human geography with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 11. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 12. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 13. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 14. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 15. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 16. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The course will include:

   Introduction/rubbish theory (Lecture)

Waste and identity (Lecture)

Waste and civil society (Lecture and seminar)

Waste and geopolitics (Lecture and seminar)

Waste and materiality (Lecture and seminar)

Waste and aesthetics (Lecture and seminar)

Waste and landscape (Lecture and seminar)

Remediation and renewal (Guest lecture)

Redesign and recycling (Lecture)

Conclusions (Lecture)

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching15Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Seminars
Guided independent study130Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Student-led seminar (a space for student discussion and debate, for the exchange and testing of ideas. Seminars will be led by a small group of students.)1 hourAllOral and peer feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay602000 words1-13Written
Seminar report401500 words1-13,16Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-13August Assessment Period
Seminar reportSeminar report1-13, 16August Assessment Period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to write a further essay. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Alexander, C and Reno, J (2012) Economies of Recycling (Zed Books)

Davies, A. R. (2012), Geography and the matter of waste mobilities. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37: 191–196.

Edensor, T (2005) Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality, Berg Publishers, ISBN 1845200772.

Gregson, N and Crewe, L (2003) Second-hand cultures (Berg Publishers)

Hawkins, G and Muecke, S (2002) Culture and Waste: The Creation and Destruction of Value, (Rowman and Littlefield)

Lynch, K (1991) Wasting Away (Sierra Club Books)

Moore, S (2012) Garbage matters: Concepts in new geographies of waste, Prog Hum Geogr December 2012 vol. 36 no. 6 780-799.

Scanlan, J (2004) On Garbage (Reaktion Books)

Thompson, M (1979) Rubbish theory: the creation and destruction of value (Oxford University Press)

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Human geography, waste management, geopolitics of waste, global systems, e-waste trade, environmental reclamation, social exclusion, urban decay, post-industrial reclamation

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date