Inorganic collections

Douglas, C
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The School of Art and Design, Auckland University of Technology

Auckland’s suburban streets are only intermittently places of public assembly, personal encounter, or common use. They are primarily part of an infrastructure of mobility and circulation: where cars and service vehicles drive, pipes and cables run, networking hardware is installed, runoff is channelled. Pedestrian infrastructure is vestigial; cropped grass verges and trees provide a conventionalised landscape veneer. In the “dominant rhetoric of modern planning” which can be traced back to Haussmann’s “regularisation” of Paris by means of “a rationalised circulatory network [that] would once and for all sweep away the dross of the community’s promiscuous life through time”, streets were reconceived as bundled technical systems that “bind the metropolis into a functioning ‘machine’ or ‘organism’” (Graham and Marvin, 2001: 53-55; Kostof, 1994: 11). Auckland’s streets are formed according to this model; but who and where are we when we’re in them? This paper will approach these spaces of coexistence as what Peter Sloterdijk calls “atmospheres” (Sloterdijk, 2011). Sloterdijk gives the term “atmosphere” a broader sense than Böhme (1993), using it to refer not only to experiential environments correlated with a perceptual apparatus, but to “air-conditioned” spaces in which coexisting and fragile subjects form. For Sloterdijk, as for Böhme, atmospheres are affective—“we find ourselves seized” (Böhme, 1993: 119) not merely enclosed, by “air conditioning systems in whose construction and calibration it is out of the question not to participate” (Sloterdijk, 2011: 46). The technics of the street also need to be seen as an atmospherics: a very particular air conditioning that not only produces lived experience, but defines the terms of that experience. To inquire into the atmospherics of suburban streets is not only to describe their ambience, but also to treat them as a growth medium for a particular kind of coexistant urban subject. This paper observes a suburban event in which the atmospherics of the street come into view: inorganic waste collections. Inorganic collections are regularly held by the Auckland Council as a way to capture waste that cannot be whisked away from the kerbside in plastic bins by a robotic arm in the usual manner. Several days before the collection date, each household is entitled to put out “one small trailer load” of inorganic waste (Auckland Council, 2013). Certain things are proscribed—car parts, organic matter, building waste—but these are commonly found in piles anyway, and the piles occasionally reach monumental proportions, supplemented by illegal dumping. The streets become messy, strange and clogged, and new behaviours emerge. People drive the streets, moving from pile to pile, scavenging (and perhaps re-dumping). Concepts of function are overtaken by practices of making use. Many studies of waste have emphasised its correlation with consumption (Gille, 2010), but this is to oversimplify the role of “practices of divestment” (Gregson, Metcalfe and Crewe, 2007) in suburban experience. Waste is not simply the husk of use-value, but a vital element in the formation of suburban subjects.  By disturbing the usual air-conditioning of the streets, inorganic collections provide an opportunity to discern its mechanics and conceive of alternatives.


Böhme, G. (1993). Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics. Trans. D. Roberts. Thesis Eleven 36, pp.113-126. Gille, Z. (2010). Actor networks, modes of production, and waste regimes: reassembling the macro-social. Environment and Planning A, 42:1049–1064. Graham, S. and Marvin, S. (2001). Splintering Urbanism. Networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition. London, UK: Routledge. Kostof, S. (1994). His majesty the pick: the aesthetics of demolition. In Z. Celik, D. Favro and R. Ingersoll, eds., Streets. Critical perspectives on public space. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp.9-22. Sloterdijk, P. (2011). Spheres. Volume I. Bubbles. Microspherology. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e). Gregson, N., Metcalfe, A., and Crewe, L. (2007). Moving things along: the conduits and practices of divestment in consumption. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32:187– 200.

Infrastructure , Public space , Waste , Auckland, New Zealand
Moved: On Atmospheres and Affects. 2013 Interstices Under Construction Symposium held at AUT University / University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, 2013-11-22 to 2013-11-24, published in: Moved: On Atmospheres and Affects. 2013 Interstices Under Construction Symposium, pp.20 - 20 (1)
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