Ontologies of Waste: A Relational Study of How Waste Comes to Matter for Humans, Society, and Future (WasteMatters). Funded by ERC, 2022-2027.

PI: Olli Pyyhtinen; team: 3 post docs & 2 Phd students to be recruited.

The future world imagined by the circular economic model is a world without waste, provided that materials and energy circulate efficiently enough through society. The project WasteMatters disrupts the waste-as-resource paradigm prevalent in the circular economy related politics, business, and scholarship alike, and examines our contemporary trashscapes beyond the idea(l) of the eternal redemption of waste. Its novel approach is to analyse the leaky realities of waste as integral to the human condition and as constitutive of society. The project explores the implications of waste throughout society and what waste does for/to us; what kind of relations, agencies, and spatiotemporal scales it assumes, prompts, enacts, and sustains; to what kind of futures society commits itself with it; and what humans become with waste.

The project develops a new methodology, more-than-human ethnography, to be able to attend to the vibrant nature and active role of waste in how we live together. The research will be carried out through four sub-studies across various sites (in Sweden and Finland), which function as important nodal points in the management and circulation of wastes: households, businesses, biogas plants, waste incinerators, and a nuclear waste repository and, to attend to the multiplicity of waste, the project will focus on four kinds of waste: food waste, plastic waste, waste incineration ash, and nuclear waste.

Through the research design, the project will generate ground-breaking insight into waste as both constitutive of society and as something that disturbs it. The empirical, methodological, and conceptual insights will be combined to enable a leap in theory building to develop a new relational theory of waste that pays attention to the multiple spatiotemporal scales of society and human actions, ultimately leading to a paradigm change from the circular economy to waste matter society.


The Meanings and Workings of the Gift: From Modernity to the Era of New Technologies (funded by KONE Foundation); 2021-2024

Team: Olli Pyyhtinen (PI); Alexandra Urakova; Margrit Schildrick; Niilo Rinne

Our transdisciplinary project, which brings together internationally recognized experts in the fields of sociology, philosophy/bioscience, and literary studies as well as a multimedia artist and curator, aims to challenge existing knowledge about the ubiquitous social phenomenon of the gift. The main aim of the project is to analyse how recent changes and challenges in technology, genetics, politics, and bioethics have affected our existing ideas of gift-giving and gift exchange, and how they invite us to rethink the gift. On the one hand, we aspire to write a history of the present by going back to the emergence of the modern discourses of the gift at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and tracing their development up until nowadays. On the other hand, we explore contemporary manifestations of the gift and ask what the gift means and does for us today – what kind of relations, assemblages, and agencies it fosters, sustains, enacts, and makes possible? The project consists of three interconnected sub-studies and an art project. Together they explore the discourses of the modern gift structured around rigid binary oppositions; the various questions and demands converging on the notion of the gift; and how recent transformations of society, new technologies, and discoveries in science affect our understanding and practices of generosity, gift exchange, sharing, and hospitality. While the main emphasis of the project is in gift theory, we also employ a rich body of empirical research materials, including a corpus of theoretical and fictional texts/narratives, scientific records of new genetic discoveries, and art objects and performances mediated by new technologies. We argue that such contemporary social and political realities as social media platforms, bio-objects, and the refugee problem are closely connected to the problem of the gift, and propose that a dialogue between scholarship and art provides us novel and fruitful perspectives on them.