Ignoring Borders: Waste Flows, Inner States and Environmental Sincerity


Please join us for the MENA Dissertation Workshop to hear our colleague, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins' (Department of Anthropology) discussion on her dissertation chapter titled Ignoring Borders: Waste Flows, Inner States and Environmental Sincerity.

Paper Abstract: In the West Bank after Oslo, eco-friendly waste management was tied to recognition of the Palestinian Authority's capacity for sovereign statehood. Foreign (non-Israeli) and Israeli attempts to locate "sincerely" environmentalist Palestinian governance were commonplace during planning, designing, construction and operation phases of sanitation projects of various kinds. A prevailing sense among Palestinian bureaucrats, engineers and experts who managed municipal waste that their intentions were being interpreted, on the one hand, and that their work was being evaluated for adherence to "environmental standards," on the other, was met with strategies for proving their own environmental sincerity. In this paper I analyze two of them: a) claims to be imitating nature by not seeing, knowing or recognizing the Green Line; b) displays of willingness to pay for sewage flows westward across the Green Line. The first of these entailed the demand to see "like the environment." The second, by contrast, demanded that the Green Line be recognized as a border between two equal states with equal environmental responsibilities. Rather than bursting into relief and eventual resolution, the tension between "seeing like the environment," thus not "seeing" political borders, and "seeing like a state" (Scott 1998), thereby prioritizing one's nation, was a perpetual, unsolved presence in their everyday work. What are the effects, I ask, of the imperative to address universalist standards of pollution prevention on enterprises aimed at securing recognition of the national capacity to self-govern? Keane observes that "sincere speech is that which is compelled by nothing that might lie 'outside' the speaker" (Keane 2007: 2014). Palestine's waste managers were sometimes expected to "see" like the inert materials of the environment, shedding culturally, economically or politically-informed (i.e. human) ways of being-in-the-world. But, produced by a linguistic ideology in which sincerity is a judgment of character, the purity of their interiority had to be recognized by the same narrow social conditions that precluded sincerity's possibility. How did Palestine's waste managers negotiate the demand, on the one hand, to prove sincerity originating in a self-contained human subject, and, on the other, to be something both more, and less, than human?


Professor Claudio Lomnitz will act as discussant. The chapter will be circulated in advance, and the abstract is included below.

Please RSVP to sg2166@columbia.edu by 4/5 to receive a copy of the paper and so we might anticipate the number of attendees.

Lunch will be provided courtesy of the Middle East Institute.

April 8th, 2013, 12-2PM
208 Knox Hall
Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins
Department of Anthropology