Lunchtime seminar – 1 May – Ka-ming Wu

April 25th, 2019 by


Mond Building Seminar Room, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF

Wednesday 1 May 2019, 12.00–1.00

Ka-ming Wu

Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge 

Living with Waste: Becoming Free As Waste Pickers in Chinese Cities

Many think that waste pickers are precarious and stigmatized workers in the global south. But we have found that in China financial reasons alone were not what pushed migrants to enter into the job.  In fact waste pickers enter waste business also to experiment with new things in the city. Their strategies of working with waste offers a prism for understanding the wider dimension of social and cultural life in waste community– what we refer to as “living with waste.” The talk joins on-going discussion of the values of waste in the formation of capital, labor and cities.It asks how waste pickers make sense of their condition of having to living with waste in various ways. How do waste pickers talk about their job? Is it just about stigmatization and suffering? If dirt is “matter of out of place” (Douglas 1966), how do they deal with impurity and contamination on the daily basis? What kind of efforts do they make to normalize or create boundaries in the undesirable working and living environment?


Short Bio:

Ka-ming Wu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she has taken up extensive ethnographic research to examine the cultural politics of state and society, waste, and most recently, gender and nationalism in contemporary China. Her book monograph Reinventing Chinese Tradition: The Cultural Politics of Late Socialism (UIP 2015) argues the nature of cultural production in rural China today can thought in terms of a “hyper folk,’ in which ritual practices, performances, heritage, craft productions, and other reenactments of the traditional can no longer be viewed as either simulations orauthentic originals, but a field where a whole range of social contests, contradictions, and changes are being negotiated. Her co-authored book Feiping Shenghuo: Lajichang De Jingji, Shequn Yu Kongjian (CUHK 2016) (Living with Waste: Economies, Communities and Spaces of Waste Collectors in China) has a great impact on the public discussion of waste and has been covered by major media. Her academic papers were published in high impact journals including Journal of Asian StudiesModern China, The China Journal, Cities, Urban Geography, Ethnology, and Taiwan: The Radical Journal of Social Studies.

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