Anthropology of Trash: An anthropologist as garbage collector
After two years of persuading New York City officials, anthropologist Robin Nagle began her job as garbage collector. She has many concerns about garbage, but she is most concerned about trash collectors, she told the student newspaper The Brown and White: What is it like to wear the uniform? How are you treated when you are in that field in New York City? Are you proud of it or ashamed of it?” She found that while working on the job, “You are very much invisible once you put on the uniform.” >> read the whole story
When she recently gave a series of talks, she wore garments she had plucked from the trash. She said:
The most important uniformed force on the streets of New York is sanitation. But when you look at literature on urban studies, urban anthropology, planning and things like that, there's nothing about sanitation workers as a workforce, as a community, as a group of people with a civic identity.
In her weeklong diary of her work as sanitation worker she writes:
Sanitation workers will learn to read a neighborhood more closely than the most sophisticated sociologist just by observing what it discards, but no one will care about their insights. In fact, no one will care much about them at all, and I want to shield them from this insult most of all.