CoPED Part 4 – Crossing the Boundaries of Disciplines for Waste Prevention

Giusy Pappalardo, Department of Engineering and Architecture, University of Catania


Video makers

"… CoPED as an opportunity for scholars of various disciplines… to experience that…diversities are things to cultivate rather than refuse."


With these words, Antonio Raciti, one of the co-instructors of CoPED, reflects with two young video-makers the activities of the School. Meanwhile, another co-instructor, Laura Saija, discusses how social mobilization against a controversial Regional Waste Management Plan in 2002 evolved into a long-term community-university partnership to challenge unjust dynamics of power. The video-makers are not only interviewing co-instructors and students but also filming a complex mosaic of people and landscapes.


This year we are located in Regalbuto, a small town upstream in the Simeto river valley. It is a hot June day in the Italian South. Fortunately, close to our headquarters, the shade of trees along the calm Pozzillo Lake gives us some fresh air. Every June for the last 7 years, CoPED arrives in Sicily for ten intense days of fieldwork, "like a breeze of fresh air," as a local resident told us.


We work in a room full of maps, matrices and blank paper on the wall, the latter being used to take notes during frequent moments of collective debriefing and analysis following fieldwork. We are co-instructors with mixed backgrounds – mainly anthropology and planning – working with students interested in various disciplines, contaminating and being contaminated by community members' backgrounds. This year we pursue a common challenge: waste prevention in a context that suffers from the malfunction of the waste management system. After 85 in-depth interviews with administrators, farmers, educators, and activists and 42 door-to-door interviews in a pilot neighborhood, we look for potential sites of change.


Collective debriefing at the headquarters of 2019 CoPED (Proloco di Regalbuto)

As one of the co-instructors with a background in Engineering and Ecological Planning, I was used to working mainly with maps, matrices, and numbers. Thanks to a long-lasting cooperation with scholars and students in the field of anthropology, I am filling matrices with words and translating maps into complex social experiences. I am learning to apply ethnography as a solid base of an emancipatory path for development, grounding projects in a deep understanding of the context.


As I become contaminated with an anthropological perspective on waste, I ask new questions concerned with the agency in the so-called waste lands and waste lives (O'Hare, 2019. Waste, in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology). Thanks to this blend of disciplines, I am reframing my approach to policymaking and spatial planning.


After ten days of intense work, valuing differences through cooperation, I think anthropology has offered CoPED a reframed understanding of waste and helped to generate community-based policies and projects in the short, medium, and long run that take into consideration the everyday actions and concerns of the people and places that waste is impacting. While the video makers capture the dynamic work of CoPED, the story does not stop when the school is over. It keeps walking on the legs of the mosaic of people that are passionately committed to change. For updates, please follow "Presidio Partecipativo del Patto di Fiume Simeto" and "CoPED Summer School" on social media.


An example of garbage accumulation in the Simeto landscape

Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropologists

Copyright 2019

Design: Adam Gamwell, Gamwell.design

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