A very enthusiastic and nice master student who is interested in my topic and who is planning to do smg. on waste in his own PhD asks me: ‘Don’t you think people who work on recycling and waste should have a common agenda such as material sociology of waste and organize as a community?’ While thinking of my reply, in approximately less then one minute, I thought of myself organizing workshops on waste and capitalist culture, travelling to conferences on recycling and environment, being invited to speak for marginal groups on the philosophy and lifestyle of recycling, filming wastepickers and scavengers by getting some funds from an Environmental Agency probably funded by BP which tries to save its already devastated reputation, wishing to live with Greenpeace activists on top of a mountain, editing a book called ‘Waste of Capital: Towards a Material Sociology’, visiting hundred different scrapyards in developing regions by getting research money, attracting ten different PhD students who will probably write the same thing under my supervision and inflating the field…..and of course I contested. This is not really what I expect my life to be and also this is not what any field of study should be. The material sociology of waste is not so different from a material sociology of any other material thing and if sub-sub specialization continues in a way to generate clearly defined and self-replicating academic activities as I cited above, rather than more dangerous, less secure, more open-ended and productive scientific practice, I am not up for it. I do not deny that conferences, books and traveling are part of scientific activities, but they were not supposed to be ends in themselves.

I am working on recycling and waste originally because of mere coincidence. When my fieldwork in the largest industrial site of Istanbul collapsed due to the impossibility to get access to factories, I was exasperated. I then read an interview in a newspaper with the brilliant organizer of the wastepickers’ movement, I was so curious about their work and wanted to do an interview with him. After four hours of interview, I took my bag and went to the capital city to see what they do there and stayed for months with wastepickers living in warehouses. After one and a half year of PhD my thesis had changed in one day. Life with them changed me as well. I then shaped my thesis several times. I have examined wastepickers who collect scrap metal and waste paper; recycling factory owners who process waste, traders who buy and sell them, finally the London Metal Exchange which determines the global reference price for non-ferrous metals. I did several interviews with traders and brokers. The fieldwork in the City of London opened the world of capital, which I explored. At the end, this whole thesis became a way to understand some aspects of contemporary society in order to change it. I could not complete it on time but I enjoyed every moment I could work on it.

With workers in urban slums, I am an activist, organizer, therapist; with organic intellectuals, I am a student of their wisdom and experience; in British Library, I am the modest student who wants to devour the books; in London and Istanbul cafes I am the dreamer-writer with all the scattered notes I hide amongst the responsibilities of teaching and thesis writing; in classroom I consider myself the mediator who facilitates the potentials of students to come into being; under the stimulation of good teachers and intellectual company, I want my thoughts melt into theirs; in conferences at Royal Society, with those oldand passionate chemists, biologists and physicists, I am no longer the social scientist or development studies scholar, but just ‘scientist’, scientist as anybody who wants to discover mysteries of the world; in small workplaces, I am the apprentice of craftsmen and reverse engineers’ who love innovating. If there is something I am not made for, it is to be an academic (It is unfortunate that academic jobs are the ones, which give some time to do those other things I like. The question then becomes how to manage to act like a scientist within the current academic establishment!).

All those experiences re-invent myself, sometimes for good sometimes for worse, especially when I get too exhausted to meet the expectations or keep promises. But I like being more than one person and I feel so. I am not saying my life is better than anyonelse’s. On the contrary, I have to struggle with a kind of rapid cycling bipolar disorder, which means moments of extreme productivity and happiness are followed by horrible moments of desperation and darkness; one day I am confident, energetic and see the tangible positive outcomes of what I do for others, another day I feel I cause more harm than good for them; I still try to get rid of some kind of self-sacrificial attitude which had serious adverse effects on my own well-being; I hate the feeling of guilt which follows me constantly like a sinister ghost who catches me as soon as I feel good for something; I do envy people who are doing things I wish I could do; I question my choices when my job applications are refused due to the publications I did not do; I wish I chose a more secure PhD funding rather than struggling in London when I can not get a ticket to attend a conference; I feel as if I did not do anything useful at all until now despite all opportunities my family gave to me…

… But what I know is that my chances of being a perhaps failed yet enthusiastic and devoted scientist are less when I make 30 year of regular payment to an academic mortgage, which comes in full package: a house, a pension fund and a recycling and waste expert title. I do not want to lose my curiosity, appetite for learning, extreme desire to change, joy of sharing thoughts and emotions with friends and intellectual company. When everything else seems to collapse, they make me keep hanging on. That is why I want to belong not to the academia, but to the world of Robert Hooke who would visit artisan clockmakers in London pubs to learn their tacit knowledge on measuring and mechanics, write pedagogical books on science and believe that everybody who has a reason and tools could do and understand science, design tools for measuring, struggle to transform Royal Society into a proper scientific institution while having to entertain aristocrats. I know I cannot do the tiniest bit of what such people achieved. But I want to work as if I will do, at least with the same spirit.

 On the third floor of British Library, there is an African-Asian collection. In this sacred treasury of knowledge, the collection is hosted by a very beautiful reading room where the librarians correctly told me off since I read social science rather than books on Africa. One day, I was reading a book, which destroyed one of my main assumptions in my thesis. The devastation came gradually with each page I was turning. Astonishment and fear caused by it lasted only a few minutes and was replaced by a strange pleasure: I realized that I was completely wrong. And it was great to know that. In the next hour, I had already started thinking of how this enlightenment could open a new path for my other findings and arguments. Unless you believe that you are part of a constantly evolving, regressing, changing practice of science, in the broader sense of understanding humans, nature and universe, you can not experience this pleasure. You should also believe in and like the fact you may never complete a project or give an answer to a problem, yet someonelse would come and do it. Otherwise we can all be one of those academics who apply a theory to smg. and teach if for thirty years.

Inwood, S. (2005) The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703, Mac Adam/Cage.

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