ISSR Seminar | The Garbage Problem: Corruption, Capacity, and Access in Four American Cities, 1880-1910

Event date/time: 

Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm
N400 Integrated Learning Center
As populations grew rapidly in American cities during the late-nineteenth century, so did waste. Trash filled yards, vacant lots, and city streets. At the same time, municipal governments—best poised to address this problem—were often corrupt, though in different ways. So, how did different forms of corruption affect what governments chose to do? And, what was the impact of their actions on democratic governance? The garbage problem inconvenienced and vexed nineteenth-century Americans, but this municipal challenge provides an unparalleled opportunity for contemporary scholars to understand how different forms of corruption affect capacity and access. In this paper we look at four cities—Pittsburgh, Charleston, New Orleans, and St. Louis—that were in principle democratic, but in practice were ruled by informal (corrupt) governing systems, which had greater or lesser ability to accomplish policy objectives (capacity),and which shaped social order and access (access). We show that decisionmaking around garbage collection and disposal was influenced by informal governing systems, creating more or less functional trash capacity and shaping whose voice was heard.
This talk is sponsored by the Departments of History and Political Science, as well as the Institute for Social Science Research Scholars Program at the University of Massachustts, Amherst.