The Role of Waste in Modern Political Philosophy
Gorman, Sarah Magdelene
In my dissertation, I engage in a political history of waste; in particular I look at modern philosophers from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and the way that waste functions alongside narratives of civilization, progress, and perfection. I analyze the political, pedagogical, and other theories of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. I use Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection to trace the legacies of these philosophers to the continued and continuing practices of wasting life their work supports and maintains. Social contract theory must have its others, those wasted and abjected to limn the boundary (along with the ‘Lions and Tygers’) of the ‘clean and proper’ civilized order. Locke abjects waste in his theory of property and I link the use of his term ‘wasteland’ to the wastelanding of Native Americans. As Kristeva says the forgetting, repressing, or disavowal of abjection leads to the return of its repressed in the form of our ‘apocalypses.’ I discuss Rousseau’s treatment of waste and the way it is ambivalently embraced, which I think is a more appropriate treatment of waste. I also compare Emile and Sophie’s education and argue that his education of women makes waste of their lives. Last, I discuss Kant’s theory of waste and race together, arguing that he redeems all waste and that he makes waste of all races except the white race. He assents to the use of people of color as means for the white race’s ends, rather than treating them as ends in themselves. Thus, I conclude that social contract theories are wasteful of life and lives and that contract theory should be garbaged for a new political principle: to not make waste of life or lives.