Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.
Rebecca K. Zarger, Ph.D.
Maya Trotz, Ph.D.
Cassandra Workman, Ph.D.
Kevin Yelvington, Ph.D.
Environment, Entanglements, Future, Planning, Science and Technology
The management of human waste is a seldom studied phenomenon in anthropology. Yet across the globe, in countries both rich and poor, it presents pervasive and difficult to tame problems. This dissertation draws on complimentary theories of management and entanglements to explore the practices and processes of organizing human waste on the Placencia Peninsula, Belize. The results illustrate how problems are conditioned and defined by messy relations between institutions, people, technologies, materials, and ecological life.
Fieldwork and analysis for this work was a culmination of years of interdisciplinary collaboration between other anthropologists and engineers at the University of South Florida. Data collection relied on interviews conducted by these researchers over a five-year period (n=46), as well as original rapid ethnographic assessments on the peninsula, virtual interviews (n=11), and collaboration with engineering colleagues. Data analysis approached management as comprised of three interdependent dimensions – non-humans, social institutions, and matters of care.
The findings highlight contingent relationships between people, human waste infrastructures, state processes, and desirable futures. They emphasize how waste management cannot be understood outside the context of its non-human entanglements (in this case the soil, water, pipes, technologies, and local ecologies). It is within these dynamics that management processes are enacted and understood, even while the specific relations between non-humans are often as speculative as they are empirical. Just as they are entangled with the non-humans of waste management, the social institutions attempting to resolve human waste problems are equally enmeshed with interpersonal relationships, knowledge practices, and sources of funding. Social trust, the flow of information, and terms of finance each shaped practices as they unfolded, in ways big and small. Finally, matters of care, or the imagined futures which propel action forward, were often dependent on people’s social position or their direct relationship with management processes. The politics and ethics of management emerged within these historical and situated relations.
Overall, this work contributes a process-oriented approach to ‘thinking through’ the practices and problems of human waste management. Being mindful of its crucial material underpinnings, the primacy of relationships and flows of information, and their contingent and emergent political dilemmas, opens a world of possibilities for how management can be enacted. My hope is that this dissertation helps practitioners and future researchers gain new insights about a part of life that has always been, and will always be, with us.
Scholar Commons Citation
Webb, William Alex, "An Anthropology with Human Waste Management: Non-Humans, The State, and Matters of Care on the Placencia Peninsula, Belize" (2022). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.