The political ecological study of environmental issues is often concerned with the interactions of diverse actors, leading to accounts of different, conflicting worldviews. While different epistemological and ontological standpoints are covered, there is consensus that environmental issues are simultaneously social and material, and that worldviews differ. In this article, I argue Michael Thompson's rubbish theory can be usefully employed to compare and contrast environmental perspectives ultimately rooted in conflicting epistemological and ontological understandings of a situation. Rubbish theory describes the categorization of objects into durables, transients and rubbish, and movements between these categories.Rubbish theory focuses on how objects are restricted in their movement and how this reflects the distribution of power and status in society. Two aspects of a society may then be assessed: 1) its value system, and 2) the extent to which different groups may alter that value system. Dynamic changes in these two aspects are then traceable. As an example of extant environmental conflicts rooted in different worldviews, this article focuses on historic and contemporary issues around the consumption of whale meat. Focusing upon whaling and whale-watching, I argue that historic and contemporary conflicts manifest different orderings and that these comprise different epistemological standpoints, which as value systems are comparable within rubbish theory.
Keywords: political ontology, rubbish theory, social theory, environmental conflict, cosmopolitics, cetaceans
How to Cite:
Singleton, B. E., (2021) “The whale watched and whaled: exploring the orderings of a complex environmental issue through the lens of rubbish theory”, Journal of Political Ecology 28(1), p.396-415. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.2928