What makes trash trash? How do we decide what to throw away? Driven by these questions and others, Samuel Amago takes us through the streets and alleys of Spain, sorting through recycling bins, libraries, social media, bookstores, and message boards in search of things that have been forgotten, jettisoned, forsaken. Ranging in topic from the transformation of urban space during the transition to democracy to a twenty-first-century sanitation strike that paralyzed Madrid for weeks, from the films of Pedro Almodóvar to graphic novels about Spain's housing crisis, Basura presents an alternative story of contemporary Spanish culture through the lens of wasted things.
Not merely an environmental problem, the proliferation of trash is an indicator of the social, political, and economic processes that undergird late, neoliberal capitalism. In chapters on cinema, photography, archaeology, drawing, comics, literature, ecology, and urban design, Amago places waste objects into dialogue with the cultural practices and structures of power that have produced them. Drawing from archaeological, ecocritical, and new materialist approaches, Amago argues that discards possess agency and generate an array of effects. Just as trash never fully disappears but returns to haunt its creators, so history never vanishes despite being buried or ignored by official narratives. Basura considers the efforts of artists, writers, and designers for whom waste is a means to withstand cultural erasure.