Background

Hello there. I am an anthropologist of food, waste, cities, and social movements. I teach and Deakin University, in Melbourne. Among other things. I also play the organ and the bass guitar (having played in a Seattle band or two or three), ride a lovely old bicycle, and sew; I’m a sometime visual artist, a sometime Dumpster-diver, and a full-time Australian by birth; I speak Spanish fluently and French and Portuguese passably; and last, but not least, I have been closely involved for a number of years in the Seattle chapter of Food Not Bombs—a globalised movement of autonomous groups which scavenge, glean, or Dumpster-dive for food discarded by local markets, distribute it freely in public places, and in the process challenge local disparities of power and privilege.

In this blog, I hope to share some of the academic work I have done which might be useful, entertaining, or both, to readers here on the web. My research, writing, and teaching deals primarily with urban ethnography and political economy. I write about cultural economies of waste and abjection, particularly in globalising cities like Seattle. I also write more broadly about political systems, and a particular interest in grassroots organising and non-hierarchical, prefigurative systems.

These interests lead me to look into things like commercial food waste and Dumpster-diving, homelessness and public space, and grassroots countercultural networks like Food Not Bombs. My writing draws on five years of ethnographic experience with chapters of Food Not Bombs in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Melbourne, and smaller cities.

I focus on relationships between economy, identity, and affect or feeling—from the aesthetic prejudices of consumers that drive commercial waste, or the fears of contagion and deviance that motivate anti-homeless policies in major cities, to the shared structures of feeling which organise acts of political resistance such as Food Not Bombs. My writing is largely organised around three intersecting topics:

  • First, the role of abject economies in global cities (often created by non-market forms of labour such as dumpster-diving and squatting);
  • Second, globalised efforts at municipal governance (such as anti-homeless “quality-of-life” ordinances, which often prohibit public food sharing);
  • Third, emergent networks and counterpublics cultivated within those abject economies (such as Food Not Bombs or Occupy Wall Street).

For me, these are not only topics that are most interesting, but most pressing. The number of people hungry or homeless seems to grow every year, while food is thrown away and housing sits vacant alarmingly often. And these two trends are often most pronounced in globalised cities like Seattle, which are home to a significant amount of the power and wealth at work in the global economy. These cities are also home to some of the more repressive political efforts to mitigate disparities by controlling the movement and conduct of homeless people and other agents in the abject economy. Through teaching, public scholarship, and a dissertation in progress, my work attempts to shed light on these issues.

2 Responses to Background

  1. Peter Ravenscroft says:

    G’day David

    Heard you on the ABC, splendid stuff, thanks on behalf of one and all. The system is shedding more and more people, so showing how to survive partly outside it is hugely important Like you, I am in part an anthropologist, and I have worked the trash all my life, just with a few variants, as I also do geology. Now 67, started in apartheid South Africa, or rather, in Cape Town, not quite the same. Politics same as yours.

    I went to Vancouver once, then hitched south past Seattle but did not stop. Was very hospitably treated by Pyallup folk, at Tacoma. , But first, getting off the plane in Vancouver, I walked out , saw the rocks, said, okay, I will go get a bit of gold, and had a quartz pebble with a good colour in 20 minutes. But more useful, discovered the blueberries, and had a feast.

    My Dad was a keen rock angle sop that started it. Then on San middens around Cape Town, I saw what shellfish they ate and got into that. Then spearfishing and abalone diving.

    Point is, pass on to all dumpster folk, that very small fish can be scooped up with a hat or a tin dish, flipped onto the bank, and eaten raw and whole. They taste like fish. Also, my brother one day noticed that baboons, often with grass between their teeth, are not brushing them. They strip off all the ripe seeds, when scorpions etc., are in short supply. Also, one day at a UQ open day, there was a chef who had cooked up about 20 different insect dishes. He said I was the only person who tried the lot, that day. Most were delicious, a few not. Also, I have read that black carbonaceous mud is often high in bacterial protein, which is why people in famines eat it but I have not tried that yet.

    One of the most useful things to do is introduce new food plants. Here, we now eat huge crops of Brazilian jaboticabas, that would do well for the whole subtropical world. Delicious fruit, freeze well if you have a freezer, but also sun dry well. Birds and possums and fruit bats learn, and then love them. Our other main crops are macadamias and bunya nuts.

    Re junk, this whole wildlife sanctuary and farm have been built equipped with salvage. I have a very kitted up workshop, as I had a junk shop once, and never sold the tools. From that, one silly week, deciding that digital newspapers needed an income, I persuaded UQ journalist prof to put up classifieds. He was slow, so it was only a world second, as we made no secret of it, and when our IT company tried to steal it, I put it all up public domain. From that in 1991, called the Yellownet, as the plan had them all, we got Amazon, Ebay, Ali Baba etc., a right royal mess. I do apologize. It was going to happen anyway, but the newspapers dropped the ball.

    Get back if interested, or come visit. Google ravenswoodwildlifesanctuary for some pics, etc

    Best regards,

    Peter 17 May 2017

    Peter Spencer Ravenscroft, Ravenswood Wildlife Sanctuary, Closeburn, Queensland. Ph: 07 3289 4470

    • Hi Peter!

      Lovely to meet you, and thanks for getting in touch. I think you might like George Bataille, or at least George Bataille would’ve liked you! I would love to come and visit the sanctuary. I’ll give it a Google. Meanwhile, get in touch if you ever find yourself in Melbourne!

      All the best,
      David

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