Research Spotlight | Discard Studies

The Discard Studies Working Research Group, funded by the NYU Center for the Humanities, began in 2016 as an opportunity to cultivate an interdisciplinary community of scholars, researchers, and colleagues with an interest in discard studies.

Discard Studies is a growing field of inquiry within the humanities, social sciences, and design fields exploring, most broadly, concerns related to the sustainability of economic processes, especially as they relate to urbanism; people’s relationships to nature; and the processes by which social relations of difference are codified through material-semiotic registers of waste and disposability.

Defining "Discard Studies"

As scholars in an interdisciplinary and growing field, members of the group range across a variety of disciplines, from Comparative Literature to Urban Planning. Since the group’s inception, co-directors Rosalind Fredericks (Associate Professor, Gallatin) and Robin Nagle (Clinical Professor, Liberal Studies) have used their award grant from the Center’s Working Research Group program to build a website (launching in 2018), hire a student intern, and host events.

Several of such events were Works in Progress luncheons, where group members could review, provide feedback on, and workshop academic papers written by their peers. “[Participants] were extremely excited to find an interdisciplinary community of interlocutors working on similar questions related to disposability, toxic materiality, and the (de)construction of value through waste,” said co-director Rosalind Fredericks, reflecting on the impact of the meetings. “These often brought scholars from the humanities and social sciences together around discussions that likely would never have happened otherwise.”

In 2018, the Discard Studies group hosted a Talking about Teaching event, organized field trips (including excursions to the Mongo Museum), and coordinated a book launch event. The co-directors mentioned that organizing a conference will be in their future as well.

Photos: A visit to the Mongo Museum in Harlem. Courtesy of Rosalind Fredericks.

The working group experience has been enormously beneficial in cementing my interest in the study of waste and placing me at the center of an effort to forge this interdisciplinary field. I have had the opportunity to connect with wonderful new colleagues across the Northeast and to think through my own research in new ways.

Rosalind FredericksCo-Director, Discard Studies Working Research Group; Associate Professor, Gallatin School of Individualized Study

The Center’s Working Research Group program aims to build community and foster interdisciplinary exchange on topics with a humanistic focus at New York University by sponsoring one- and two-year grants for faculty-led groups. The program is designed to enhance the quality of research at NYU, and to promote collaboration and exchange across disciplinary lines. The deadline for Working Research Group grants is in January with the intention for groups to begin their work the upcoming academic year.

For Professors Fredericks and Nagle, the advantage of such a program is the opportunity for scholars to “define and forge a new interdisciplinary field” and provide a time and space “to bring scholars together from diverse fields around a common theme that is, as of yet, not that well defined in the scholarly literature.”


Rosalind Fredericks

Robin Nagle
Liberal Studies