Wasted lands
: waste theory and modern dystopian fiction

  • Kavita Thanki

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis uses waste studies as a methodological framework to analyse modern dystopian literature written by authors from marginalised communities. In paying attention to stories and ontologies from outside the canon, from people who have lived experience of nightmare societies and wasted worlds, we can better understand what dystopia is and how we can survive, salvage from and mutate it. Yet the genre is still theoretically defined by canonical texts which set dated, imperialistic generic conventions. This thesis aims to expand theoretical understandings of the genre outside of the mid 20 th century western confines and concerns to which it has, to date, been limited. It does so by selecting non-canonical texts, and by engaging with them through a methodology that interrogates the creation and destruction of value (with a particular focus on what happens to those things not valued).

The texts analysed here show how dystopia is signified through unjust processes of wasting: through the corruption of a utopian ideal, the state’s miscarriage/s of justice, the creation of scapegoats and sacrificing of these people in the name of the dystopian ideology. However, they trouble the genre convention of dystopia as a strategy of warning: they insist that the orthodox criteria of cognitive estrangement be broadened into holistic engagement; they distort the emotional, temporal and spatial distance we feel from the protagonist’s world;
they show that dystopia is alive here and now – that if we are not suffering it ourselves, we are complicit in enacting it on others. In this way, these texts re-write dystopia’s function as a strategy of solidarity. Furthermore, they show how waste itself troubles the genre convention that dystopian states control, bury or contaminate the memory of the past; waste and wastescapes refuse to co-operate, they linger, they insist that there is no away place or time.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorJames Ward (Supervisor) & Stephen Butler (Supervisor)


  • Discard studies
  • Critical utopia
  • Pollution poetics

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