Folklore & Folklife
Logan Hall
Center for Folklore and Ethnography
Graduate Program
Undergraduate Minor
Folklore Home
University of Pennsylvania Home

For more information about Folklore and Folklife,at UPenn, contact Professor Dan Ben-Amos at

For assistance with the Folklore and Folklife website, contact Linda Lee at

Faculty Courses Events News

Sonja Windmüller
  The front page of a brochure by "Keller &   Knappich" (German company), advertising   garbage cans (1939).
Talk by Sonja Windmüller

April 22, 12:00 - 1:30 p.m.
Logan 312.

Busy with Waste: On the Cultural Aspects of Garbage, its Perception and Handling

In modern industrialized societies, garbage belongs to the most urgent problems, thus being intensively discussed in economic as well as in legal, hygienic, political and environmental context. But, garbage must also be understood as a fundamental social practice of nothing less than paradigmatic quality. Analysing garbage and the way we deal with it technically (in terms of burning, depositing and recycling) offers a good access to collective mood and cultural values, to how we think and feel, to our fears, hopes and needs.

From a cultural anthropological perspective, drawing on historical-hermeneutic methods, I examine the early period of municipal solid waste management, particularly in Germany, in the late 19th and early 20th century. My focus is on the material expressions: technical instruments like garbage cans, trucks or incinerators and their physical and symbolical implications as well as the "stuff" itself in its offensive affective potential. I draw on a variety of written and visual sources, including the vast amount of specialized literature of that time, newspaper articles, product catalogues and pictures of waste and devices.

The first incineration plant in Continental Europe, put into operation in Hamburg in 1896.


Sonja WindmüllerSonja Windmueller received her Ph.D. in European Ethnology/Folklore from Philipps University Marburg (Germany). Her recently published dissertation ("Die Kehrseite der Dinge. Müll, Abfall, Wegwerfen als kulturwissenschaftliches Problem", Muenster et. al.: LIT 2004) explores garbage as a cultural phenomenon with both, a theoretical and empirical approach. Lectures, exhibitions and publications on different subjects. Teaching assignments in Frankfurt/Main and Hamburg. Sonja Windmueller is currently working on the concept and practice of rhythm in the intersection of music, economics and culture.

Illustration from an article on waste incineration published in a German Newspaper: "Der 'Feuerofen'". In: Duesseldorfer Nachrichten, March 13 1927.

<< Return to the previous page