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The Humanities Dialogue

NOTE: Due to the pandemic, the WASTE DIALOGUE has been postponed to 2021-2022.

In the meantime, the Kaplan Institute is planning a series of Humanities on the Frontline conversations that will take place in 2020-2021. Details to be announced in Fall quarter 2020.



A year-long conversation about the ecologies, afterlives, and politics of waste

Filth • Abjection • Accumulation • Remains • Ecosystems • Discard Studies • Degradation • Disposal • Consumption • Throwaway culture • Excrement • Bio-politics • Expenditure • Wastelands • Garbology • Spoilage • Degeneracy • Trash animals • Salvage art • Disaster • Subsistence • Reprocessing • Diversion • Surplus • Idling • Stagnation

When is something deemed expendable?
What are the costs?
What can be reclaimed?

The Kaplan Humanities Institute will partner with Northwestern departments and programs in our year-long series of conversations around the theme of WASTE.

The goal of the Dialogue series is to build a multi-layered conversation showcasing ways that different humanities- and art-related approaches shape the debate around a timely subject. We seek to invite artists, public intellectuals, and scholars from a variety of disciplines, geographical areas of focus, and historical periods. The WASTE Dialogue will include: 


To be scheduled in 2021-2022

Kate Brown, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society (MIT) and author of Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, will speak about points where history, science, technology, and bio-politics converge to create large-scale disasters and modern wastelands.

Kate Orff (landscape architect and MacArthur winner) and Richard Misrach (renowned photographer) will reflect on the aftermath of their book Petrochemical America, which combines visuals and narratives of the Mississippi River industrial corridor to address environmental impact and social justice. 

Event co-sponsorship

Kaplan will offer 6-8 event co-sponsorships for distinguished scholars and artists. Calls for submitting proposals will be opened in 2021. Questions? Contact Megan Skord:

Related curriculum

Kaplan will promote courses related to the WASTE theme in connection with the Dialogue. Course titles and quarter offered can be sent to

Course enhancement grants 

Kaplan plans to award funds to cover field trips, performances, or guest lecturer honoraria to augment content of WASTE-related courses. Full details will be announced in 2021. Questions? Contact Jill Mannor:

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