Abstracts- Day 1 (April 29)

Kacper Niburski—IHPST, University of Toronto
The Junk of the Body, Renaissance Masturbation

In 1712, the anonymously authored Onanism; or the Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and All its Frightful Consequences in Both Sexes, Consider’d catalyzed a growing censure on private lives and the often secretive masturbatory practices they held. Previously sparse theological-moral castigations ballooned, an advent of false medical conditions such as spermatorrhoea supported the cries of judgement, and what was once secretive and benign became the vitriolic focus of body control, social cohesion, and normative education. Thomas Laqueur goes so far to suggest that masturbation “began in the early 18th century.”

Yet the early modern European period abounds in subtle allusions to the act and much of the permissiveness of sexual relations later rebuked found footing in the Renaissance. I wish to contend that though Onanism considered masturbation junk (which indirectly resulted in the pairing of the phrase to one’s genitals), it is hardly such in the Renaissance tradition. While evidence is difficult to account for, masturbation was widely practiced and implicitly celebrated in the early modern period.

Four parts ground the argument: social and medical understandings of “solitary sex” borrowed from Antiquarian theology and Cynic philosophy; user-centered pornographic theory that is shared between tortured Medieval saints and Charles Estienne’s anatomical figures; a growth in erotic art, particularly in depiction of self-excitement; and Giulio Romano’s I modi, or The Positions, along with Pietro Aretino’s accompanying sonnets, as an expression of licentiousness that was not only blossoming, but prized individually. What these together show is that various forms of art were reused and reduced to other private ends, where a displacement is formed between what is previously renowned is later considered sexually-charged rubbish.

Sara Qidwai—IHPST, University of Toronto
Discarded perspectives on Darwinism in India

During the Colonial Era, transfer of scientific knowledge was understood as a top-down relationship from the European center to the non-European periphery. We now know that scientific theories are rarely transmitted in a simple linear fashion; it is a complex transaction involving exchanges, negotiations and repackaging, as they cross borders. This recent shift in understanding transfer of knowledge points to several areas of scholarly work that were previously disregarded or pushed aside. One such area is the reception of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in non-Western countries. Recently, scholars haveturned to examine those areas left outside Darwinian studies. Even with this revised framework, the reception of Darwinism in India is relatively ignored or disregarded.The first murmurings of Darwin in India were around the late 19th century. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Aligarh movement, published a highly controversial article in defense of natural selection. In this text, he argues against religious theories of origin like creationism and presents an argument for the reconciliation of Darwinism with Islam. However, this episode of pro-Darwinian sentiments in India is disregarded. The goal of this paper is twofold: It aims at recreating Sir Syed’s views on evolution and outlining why this topic was considered as “junk” in Darwinian studies.

Amy I Gilson—Harvard University
A view from the Chemistry Library

In 2013, half of Harvard’s chemistry library was converted into an ultra-cold chemistry laboratory for an incoming professor. Leading up to this point, the library was transformed through the contestation of its purpose among faculty, staff, students, and the librarian. Historically, the library prioritized providing all the information a researcher in the department might need, including broad science literature. Now, the library’s function is to provide specialized chemistry information to the whole university. For the latter half of the 20th century, the library was organized by a system developed specifically for chemists by Professor Robert Woodward. However by the mid 2000s, most scientific literature was available online and interdisciplinary, collaborative science was seen as a crucial part of future research. These changes destabilized the purpose of a physical, department-specific library. In response, librarian moved the library’s administrative home from the chemistry department to the university library system to make its collection more accessible to scholars outside the department. As part of the centralization, Woodward’s organization was replaced with the standard Library of Congress system. When half the library was slated for renovation into laboratory space, almost all volumes of bound journals, including general science magazines such as Science and Nature, were moved off-site or discarded. While introduction of the Library of Congress system invited other researchers to use the chemistry library’s materials, discarding scientifically broad journals acknowledged that chemists usually access them online through sources managed outside the department. Now, a small collection of contemporary chemistry textbooks is maintained until their text can be provided to all of Harvard electronically as well. However bound volumes of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, chemistry’s flagship journal, are a permanent fixture. They decorate three walls of the library on build-in shelves to evoke the chemical affiliation of the space. Today, the library is primarily for quiet study, napping, and for social functions.

Fan Zhang—IHPST, University of Toronto
Science in Junkyard — Absence and Omnipresence of Science in a New Anthropology Textbook

At the 109th American Anthropology Association (AAA) Annual Meeting held in New Orleans in November 2010, the Executive Board of the association decided to change the wording of its long-range plan’s mission statement. The primary mission of the association was changed from “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects” to “to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects”. The omission of the word “science” was noticed by The New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade who in a widely read and debated report called it a decision that “re-opened a long simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines” and researchers “who see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights”. The accuracy of Wade’s characterization of disciplinary segmentation along the line of science was affirmed, contested or qualified by anthropologists from all stripes. The importance of the underlying questions of whether anthology is a science and whether biological anthropologists, archaeologists and social anthropologists belong to the same discipline, meanwhile, was confirmed by the very occurrence of the debate. I intend to revisit these questions by examining a recent undergraduate anthropology textbook used in one of the major universities in North America and discuss how science’s absence from the textbook indicates its omnipresence and how the apparent fragmentation of sub-disciplines in anthropology underlines its coherence and strength.


Angela Cope—STS, York University
Smelly Hippies: The Performance of Filth, Crust Punk and Hygiene

Through a lively personal narrative, I will examine the sub-cultural phenomenon of “crusty punks” and the rejection of capitalism and modernism through the rejection of hygiene. I will argue that the movement has its roots in the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s, which themselves were a rejection of an emergent middle-class hygienic citizenship which embraced disposability and convenience over thrift and re-use. I will focus in particular on the performance of an “authentic” existence through extreme re-use/no-waste practices like dumpster diving and free-ganism, and how much of crust’s performance relies on the same practices they reject. As a student who primarily focuses on plastics, this topic is greatly divergent from what I generally study, however, my past experiences are implicitly present in my subject of interest. I hope to reflexively approach this topic so that I might get greater insight into my own motivations for studying plastic.

Ashwini Srinivasamohan—Geography, University of Minnesota
Discipline & rubbish: The making of (in)formal subjects around waste in Chennai, India

‘Informal’ waste workers in cities around the global south and elsewhere are a main (and at times, only) source of recycling. In India, much scholarship has been conducted on the ‘informal’ waste economy and waste pickers, focused primarily on cities such as Bangalore and Delhi. I am interested in exploring the dynamics of ‘informal’ waste work in Chennai, the state capital of Tamil Nadu and the fourth most populous city in India, generating over 5,000 tons of solid waste per day. The city has undergone major shifts in the past few years, such as the privatization of waste management in three administrative zones, the closing of one of the two main refuse dumps, and the increased discussion around incineration as an alternative. My fieldwork has thus far focused on the formation of environmental subjectivities around waste in Chennai, India, but for the prospective doctoral research the focus will pivot toward the waste pickers and the broader ‘informal’ waste economy, which includes agents such as the door-to-door collectors, itinerant buyers, and processing facilities. I am interested in the ways in which this ‘informal’ economy is subject to the broader workings of the neoliberal capitalist order, and how these logics are mapped onto the bodies of the waste pickers. There are two main threads I wish to explore in this presentation. First, the effects of financialization on the ‘informal’ economy, that is, the ways in which the ‘formal’ structures of capital and neoliberal, market-based governance influence the operations of the ‘informal’ economy. I aim to problematize the binary of ‘formal/informal’ labor, and bring to bear not their dialectical or co-constitutive relationship, but how the dichotimization elides important tensions and relations of power at play. Second, I explore how the movements around organizing waste pickers, and the forms of (or lack of) self-organization among waste pickers in Chennai, have created avenues of solidarity while also reproducing structures of governmentality and market-based logic. I hope to present these incipient theoretical explorations to this group of scholars, and gain perspective into carrying out further ethnographic and spatial research around the material and affective dynamics of waste in Chennai.

Mariya Boyko—IHPST, University of Toronto
One Man’s Trash Becomes Another Man’s Treasure: Mathematical School Reforms in Post-War America and the Soviet Union

Many of us are familiar with complex political relationship of the US and the USSR during the cold War and post-Cold War period. However, attitudes towards education in both countries and their interactions that related to pedagogical experience exchange are less known. Intuitively, it is natural to think that the two super powers would dismiss foreign pedagogical techniques as ‘junk’, refusing to exchange experiences or borrow ideas, however, the story is far more complex and a lot less obvious that. North American historians of mathematics education have provided detailed accounts of the 1960s “new mathematics” movement, its goals, features and aftermath. Parallel to the reforms in the West, but somewhat later, innovative and fundamental changes to mathematics education were also being carried out in the Soviet Union. Soviet educational theorists were aware of the Western developments and discussed them in periodicals devoted to mathematics education. The Soviet reforms and their lasting legacy have not been covered adequately in the literature thus far. The paper will examine aspects of these reforms and provide a comparison of the Russian experience with what took place in the West.

Michael Laurentius—STS, York University
The ‘Discarded’ Early Warning Line: Radar Stations in the High Arctic

In 1954, the Canadian and American governments jointly agreed to begin constructing the Distant Early Warning (or DEW) Line of radar stations within the High Arctic as a means of addressing the fear of there being “no boundaries upstairs” to detect and thwart a Soviet aerial incursion. While my research primarily focuses on how during the Cold War, Canada used various technological networks and rituals to found or galvanise its unique identity and construct or maintain a perception of control and sovereignty over the frontiers, this presentation will focus on what was discarded. In relation to the DEW Line, I will examine: 1) how the Canadian arctic had been largely disregarded until threats of American militarisation arouse; 2) how limited funding and changing priorities (ICBM threat) rendered the DEW Line superfluous; and 3) how, with the end of the Cold War, controversy sprung up regarding the process of deactivation, clean-up, and attempts at preservation of these radar sites. While arguably discarded, the DEW Line allowed for the maintenance of Canadian sovereignty, the growth of arctic infrastructure, an opportunistic reintroduction of the “northern narrative” into the Canadian mythos, and is a means through which to critically re-examine our relationship with indigenous peoples and environments. That is some fascinating and powerful “junk.”

University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection (UTSIC)
Scavenging Heritage and Repurposing Trash: Scientific Instruments Made in Toronto

This panel explores how the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection (UTSIC) is composed of materials that were being thrown away by science departments, labs, etc. It will also consider how scientific instruments and apparatuses are re-purposed from parts, materials, and other “trash,” citing examples from UTSIC’s own collection.