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“Unwanted Bread: Ethical Disposal and  Infrastructural Publics in Post-Oslo  Palestine”

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins
Assistant Professor OF Anthropology, Bard College

Drawn from my book manuscript, Waste Siege: Improvisation and Infrastructure in Post-Oslo Palestine, this paper examines emergent changes in the boundary between household and street in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It takes as its starting point the observation that the period after the second intifada (2000-2006) has been characterized by what many are calling the collapse of the national Palestinian movement. It is an ethnography of unwanted bread—a paradox in a moment that is equally marred by a faltering Palestinian economy, deepening poverty and debt. For as long as anyone can remember, bread in Palestine has been considered sacred. A symptom of its status is that it must not be discarded. Yet thousands of households are left with an excess of it. And the social infrastructures that once existed for people to be able to give unused bread away—thereby keeping this sacred, abject object in circulation—have disappeared with the collapse of earlier forms of solidarity. Unused bread creates an ethical dilemma. The paper tracks Palestinians’ use of outdoor, public infrastructures to leave unused bread, ideally for future use by strangers. It argues that the practice of leaving bread out constitutes anonymous strangers into emergent publics through innovative appropriations of city infrastructures.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bard College. PhD, Columbia University; Msc., University of Oxford; BA, Columbia University. Stamatopoulou-Robbins’ research has been awarded funding by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation, Columbia University, and the Palestinian American Research Council. Based on fieldwork in the West Bank between 2007 and 2016, her current book project explores what happens when, as Palestinians are increasingly forced into proximity with their own wastes and with those of their colonizers, waste is transformed from “matter out of place” into matter with no place to go. Her research highlights the intersections of garbage, sewage and waste markets with changing experiences of governance and occupation in post-Oslo Palestine. Publications include pieces in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, The Jerusalem Quarterly, Anthropology News, The New Centennial Review, and the Refugee Studies Centre Working Paper Series at the University of Oxford.

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