Fall 2020


At its most elemental level, dirt is soil or earth that grounds the living and harbors the dead. As land occupied, possessed or stolen, it may afford hospitality to strangers, or demarcate corporeal, geographic, and conceptual zones of exclusion. As symbolic currency, it is disseminated through gossip and threats of disorder, contagion, and pollution. Deemed dangerously “out of place” (Douglas 1966), it subtends logics of control, violence, and ostracism. This semester’s theme explores the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of filth, waste, toxicity, and contamination alongside attendant fantasies of purity, hygiene, and cleanliness to address and reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural urgencies bearing on bodies and borders, including histories of corporeal and cultural abjections and exclusions, environmental racisms and racist environments, the ethics of citizenship, and the global movements and plights of migrants and refugees. How has dirt been deployed both against and by indigenous, subaltern, post/neo/settler-colonial, refugee, immigrant, and queer communities, and what forms of violence and resistance has such thinking engendered? How might a subversive poetics of dirt reframe its symbolic potential, its capacity for instilling, but also for troubling, normative social, cultural, and aesthetic hierarchies? We invite inquiries into the uses and abuses of dirt, and its various political, religious, sexual, ethnic, racial and ecological significations considered from below, or from the ground up. 


Detention Operations

ANGELA NAIMOU • Clemson University


Queer Erotic Archives in Franco's Spain (1954-1979)

JAVIER FERNÁNDEZ GALEANO • Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Wesleyan


Soil, The Black Archives

MARISA SOLOMON • Barnard College, Columbia University


Lust Area

GREG GOLDBERG • Wesleyan University


Histories of Dirt in Lagos

STEPHANIE NEWELL • Yale University



Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being

AMY TANG • Wesleyan University


Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures

YU-TING HUANG  • Wesleyan University


Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence

KHALIL JOHNSON • Wesleyan University 



“Bob Did Bad Things”: Indigenous Lives as Dirt and as Ephemera in the Early 20th Century U.S.

TSIANINA LOMAWAIMA • Arizona State University


Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave

PAULA MATTHUSEN • Wesleyan University