Deirdre McKay, Elyse Stanes, Nicole Githua, Xiaoyu Lei, Simon Dixon
November 27, 2020
As a pervasive, material element of the global, plastics raise potent social and environmental questions. More than merely the “stuff” of potential global prosperity, plastics are substances that people inscribe with varied cultural meanings. Deploying four conceptual “entry points” for global research, we explore how global plastics have become not only a site of an emergent socioecological crisis but themselves a point of leverage for a more humanized globalization. We approach the problem first as an exercise in reframing, shifting our viewpoint away from debates on waste to re-examine ideas of culture and symbolism. Then, working through the entry points of the particular, materiality and affect, we ground our argument in examples from the contemporary pandemic response, earlier ethnographic work, and our own ethnographic projects. We show how plastics have failed people’s desires for a durable modernity, but nonetheless come to shape the ways they feel and think about themselves and each other as sharing responsibility for a global world.