Ask the Sanitation Anthropologist
NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Anthropologist-in-Residence Robin Nagle will be responding to readers’ questions about her work studying the DSNY and the City’s garbage systems this week on the New York Times’ City Room Blog. Dr. Nagle is a long-time friend and partner of the Freshkills Park project.
After graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University, Dr. Nagle started to design a research project with the Department of Sanitation around a variation on that question from her childhood: Who cleans up after New Yorkers? More specifically, what is it to be a sanitation worker in the city today? What does it mean to put on the uniform, navigate the streets, heft the weight, and learn the city from a unique and intimate perspective? Why does the most important uniformed force on the streets face a persistent stigma, and how do sanitation folk reconcile that contradiction?
These are questions we’re interested in not just because we work with so many folks at DSNY, but also because the Freshkills Park site carries much of the same duality of value and stigma as Sanitation workers. It’s one of the interesting challenges of developing the site’s identity as parkland.
UPDATE: Dr. Nagle’s answers have been posted in three parts: here, here and here.