Since late 2018, I have been focusing on discard reclamation work in Brooklyn, New York. I study canners, who collect, sort, and redeem deposit-marked single-use containers for a livelihood, and I work closely with the non-profit redemption center Sure We Can. This project explores an emerging advocacy movement among canners for recognition as part of the waste management infrastructure of New York City. Although informed by research on waste and urban gentrification, my aim is to expand upon theorizations of livelihood as a mode of perception and knowledgeability (Ingold), and canning as a symptom of social abandonment (Povinelli) that simultaneously holds possibilities for particular kinds of value transformation (Graeber). By examining a modality of work that divulges the profoundly uneven effects of capitalist modernity, I explore the ways knowledge is made and distributed through salvaging and how it revalues not only waste materials but the work and those who do it against notions of “abject” labor. I also bring to this project engaged anthropology and participatory design approaches, creating encounters in meetings, workshops, and advocacy projects that make space for co-designing solutions to the challenges that canners face.
As part of raising public awareness about the challenges, needs, and successes of canners, I compiled some initial research findings: Snapshot-Canning-CH
This factsheet presents the findings from Phase 1 of our 2020 WIEGO COVID-19 Impact Study on canners.