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Workshop: The Burden of Superfluous Matters

Nov 30, 2018 - Dec 01, 2018
Organiser: Transcultural Forays

Human beings have a long and complicated history of relationship with their and other animals’ bodily wastes. On the one hand, regular expelling of unwanted bodily fluids and solids was considered as purging residual superfluities in order to keep the body balanced and healthy. On the other hand, however, when wastes accumulate and flow from the inside to the outside of physical bodies, they become pathogenic danger, threatening objects, and sanitary hazard. Knowledge and practices developed in human societies to deal with this eternal dilemma: reusing them as natural resources for producing such as medicines and fertilizers, conceptualizing them as divine entities, or eliminating their traces from habitable environment altogether.

The histories of guano have showed that bodily wastes were involved in the complex of transcultural entanglements of geopolitical conflict and ecological imperialism, as shown in the story of guano in the Pacific World. Other entities expelled from the body were also subjects of transcultural entanglements, this time between Buddhist and medico-religious knowledge. For example, animal excrement, placentas and effluvia produced by aged bodies were valorized as remedies, envisioned as deities, and regarded as objects of ritual manipulation. By examing spatially and temporally diverse cases, this workshop focuses on various historical conditions that shaped bodily wastes as burdensome superfluities, for both individual bodies and the environment at large. It investigates the emergence and collapse of specific moments when knowledge, practices and materials were set in motion or discontinued. It brings together research on the conceptualization of bodily wastes from Buddhist and religious studies, history of medicine, environmental history and history of science and technology.

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