Essay about Rubbish society

Submitted By 416381137
Words: 1459
Pages: 6

Essay Plan
The challenge of rubbish
Theory – Thompson
Thompson’s theory from 1979
Zero value
Modern examples
Based on demand and supply
Modern relevance
Increases is standard of living in West means even more relevant
Prevalence of disposable items
Principle does not apply to all items, e.g. gold/bricks.
Modern art and junk art
Thompson still relevant
Wider relevance
To less economically developed countries? Yes, but fewer items with zero value, more with greater transient value
Some exceptions if society not based on supply and demand, e.g. Buddhist monks
To historical societies? Yes, but proportions of items in each category changes over time
Thompson still relevant
Impact of recent greater emphasis on recycling
Greater awareness of the environmental impact of consumerism, including of disposing of items, leading to greater emphasis on recycling or re-use
Re-use of items which would have had zero value giving them transient value
The ‘break-even’ point, impact of recycling must not be greater than the impact of disposing and replacing
Thompson still relevant
Rubbish has been one of man’s enduring challenges
Challenge has increased as society has become more consumer orientated
Thompson’s theory widely valid, with some exceptions, but provides a useful analytical framework.

Rubbish is the invisible part of consumption (Making Social Lives, 2009, p103). Rubbish has always been produced by humans, both historically and in our modern society. It is an inevitable product of our consumer society. However, there are different views to the ways we value, or disvalue, waste. The term ‘rubbish’ has more than one meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines rubbish as: “waste material; refuse or litter”; or “material that is considered unimportant or valueless” ( To describe something as “valueless” also requires a definition of the term value. It can refer to how useful something is, or the extent to which something is regarded worthwhile, or the extent to which it can command a price. It can also refer to the ‘norm’ or principle of what is right and wrong (Making Social Lives, 2009, p104). Items can also hold sentimental value to individuals; while they hold no monetary value it may be treasured by one person. Thompson (1979) provided a theory to explain the ways in which rubbish is valued. This essay will explore the worth of rubbish, examining one of the main western theories, and test its validity to different societies and societies over time.
In his book ‘Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value’ (1979), Thompson looked at how objects can pass through three categories of rubbish: transient, zero value; and durable (Making Social Lives, 2009, p122). The transient category included items that were produced for ordinary use, such as clothing or mobile phones, whose value would fall over time. Items that nobody wants, such as broken technology products, worn out clothes or wrappers, have zero-value. Items that increase in value over time, such as works of art, Thompson viewed as durable. Thompson used the example of Stevengraphs (made by Thomas Stevens) to prove his theory. The modestly prices woven pictures provide Stevens with a livelihood in the late 1800s (having transient value), but became very unpopular in the middle of the 20th Century, with zero value. However they increased in value significantly in the 1960-70s, eventually selling as collectors’ items, gaining durable value (Making Social Lives, 2009, p124). Thompson argued his theory could be applied to any consumer society, as long as demand and supply was present. In terms of the Stevengraphs, suddenly something in limited supply was wanted by collectors, and so the value increased.
Thompson lived in a modern western society, and his theory was based on relatively modern evidence. His