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Waste and Society

Module titleWaste and Society
Module codeGEO2454
Academic year2023/4
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 develop your skills as a critical thinker and researcher through practical and theoretical consideration of the topic of waste. Moving beyond an understanding of waste as unwanted matter, we will explore the consequences of ‘wasting’-- socio-ecological relations producing wasted people, places and substances.  We will examine key themes in recent  research on waste, and consider how this research  relates to different conceptual, material and cultural contexts. The module addresses how waste is made and handled (household waste and waste management), how waste circulates through global systems (waste trading, carbon emissions as waste), how wasted places are degraded and reclaimed (environmental remediation and reclamation) and how waste can be reimagined and repurposed (circular economy, repair and reuse). 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module develops a practical and theoretical framework for the study of key themes and contexts related to  transdisciplinary study of waste – including environmental degradation and pollution, waste colonialism and capitalism, post-industrial dereliction and environmental injustice. Critical analysis  is balanced with practical and applied inquiry, and students learn to identify the cultural, economic and political systems that underlie processes of wasting and waste production. The module introduces you to current research undertaken by module leads, and module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas, such as societal debates over ‘forever chemicals’ and microplastics, the proposed rewilding of abandoned agricultural lands and the prospect of ‘degrowth’ as a counter to unsustainable economic models.

You will develop the tools required to study such issues, and explore how research can inform policy and practice. The module supports you in developing your skills in critical analysis through preparation of a literature review essay on a topic related to the student-led seminar task. 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. You will develop key professional skills, including communication of ideas, principles and theories using a variety of formats and collaboration and negotiation skills related to group seminar tasks and discussions. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe and evaluate, with some assistance, the methods and theories that human geographers use to understand waste processes and practices
  • 2. Review and evaluate the key theoretical precepts which underpin geographical understandings of waste
  • 3. Evaluate and explore, with some help, geography’s interdisciplinary links with cultural studies, anthropology and other social science disciplines, and how these have informed our conceptualisation of waste
  • 4. Comprehend and articulate the ways in which waste processes work through cultural, political, ecological and social registers
  • 5. Identify key themes in recent geographical research on waste, and engagements with developments in policy and practice

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 guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in human geography
  • 9. Deploy, with guidance, 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. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid 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 guidance
  • 14. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources
  • 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

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics: 

  • Introduction/waste geographies
  • Waste economies/waste ecologies
  • Waste mobilities/waste metabolisms
  • Waste places
  • Waste temporalities
  • Waste politics
  • Waste abodies
  • Degrowth and decolonisation
  • MRepair and reciprocity

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 teaching12Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching12Seminars and tutorials
Guided independent study126Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Coursework essay plan500 wordsAllOral feedback (tutorial)

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
Literature review752000 words1-13Written
Group presentation2520 minutes1-13, 16Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Literature reviewLiterature review1-13August assessment period
Group presentationEssay1-13, 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 redo the original assessment as necessary. 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

  • Armerio (2021) Wastocene: stories from the global dump, Cambridge
  • Foote, S and E  Mazzolini (2012) Histories of the dustheap: waste, material cultures, social justice, MIT Press
  • Gordillo, G (2014) Rubble: the afterlife of destruction, Duke
  • Liboiron (2021) Pollution is colonialism, Duke
  • Lindner, C and M Meissner (eds) (2018) Global garbage: urban imaginaries of waste, excess, and abandonment, Routledge
  • Moore, S (2012) Garbage matters: Concepts in new geographies of waste, Prog Hum Geogr, 36(6): 780-799
  • Reno, J (2015) 'Waste and waste management', Annual Review of Anthropology, 44(1): 557-572
  • Scanlan, J (2004) On garbage, Reaktion Books
  • Thompson, M (1979) Rubbish theory: the creation and destruction of value, Oxford
  • Viney, W (2015) Waste: a philosophy of things, Bloomsbury

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources



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


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