Plastic! Waste, Design, Entanglement, and the World’s Most Formidable Substance

University Liberal Arts: University Lecture Program

Liberal Arts

Undergraduate Course

Degree Students


Fall 2019

Taught By: Dylan Gauthier

Section: L

CRN: 7489

Credits: 0

This course tackles the wicked problem of the proliferation of plastics through engaged lectures coupled with small group discussion and critical making assignments that investigate issues in the histories, material cultures, and global economies of the world’s most formidable substance. Plastic is an ubiquitous fixture of our modern life, making up key components in everything from cellphones and computers to household furniture, automobiles, airplanes, effective prosthetics and medical aids, and of course, the packaging for everything else. A boon to industry, plastics have allowed us to move things (and ourselves) farther, cheaper, and faster; retain food freshness longer; or create entirely new categories of single-use consumer goods. Yet, we are becoming increasingly aware that the production of plastic has given way to the crisis of plastic. Over 300 tons of plastic is produced globally each year, and of this only a small amount is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, polluting fields, alleys, and roadsides, or breaking down into smaller and smaller plastic particles in our waterways and oceans. These are ingested by fish and inevitably find their way up the food chain and onto our dinner plates. Toxicity from improperly disposed-of consumer grade plastics has been blamed for everything from lower fertility rates in humans to massive species die-offs in bees and other insects. By some accounts, plastic is in all of us. What alternatives are there to this collapse of global ecosystems and the ascendancy of the plastisphere?” How might we as artists, designers, and thinkers confront the plastic epidemic and design tools that make use of and/or counteract its ubiquitousness? The course will attempt to locate a “politics of plastics” that can contend both with specific sites of pollution and its status as an enabler of certain forms of global commerce and trade.  Always looking to the future, the course will entertain solutions with workshops to produce sustainable bioplastics, visits to New York City’s recycling infrastructure, and projects created within the “precious plastics” lab at Parsons--part of a global movement that aims to massively rework the way we value recyclables. We will also discuss future research and design opportunities, contemporary art that interfaces with the “plastisphere,” and knowledge gaps in our understanding. Drawing on cutting edge research, visiting lecturers, teaching assistants, and the course instructor will give lectures, assign texts, and lead discussion groups on plastic as it intersects with disciplines of art, urban planning and design, and global and environmental studies. [This ULEC is in category 1, Tools for Social Change.]

College: University Liberal Arts (UL)

Department: University Lecture Program (ULIB)

Campus: New York City (GV)

Course Format: Lecture (L)

Max Enrollment: 50

Add/Drop Deadline: September 9, 2019 (Monday)

Online Withdrawal Deadline: November 17, 2019 (Sunday)

Seats Available: No

Status: Closed*

*Status information is updated every five minutes. The status of this course may have changed since the last update. Open seats may have restrictions that will prevent some students from registering. Updated: 1:17pm 2/26/2020 EST

Meeting Info:

Days: Tuesday

Times: 2:10pm - 3:25pm

Building: Johnson/Kaplan 66 West 12th

Room: 407

Date Range: 8/27/2019 - 12/10/2019