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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.123

Collecting leaves, discovering objects. Street sweepers, dirt and usefulness


  • Dr. Gibert MARIE-PIERRE

Primary authors


When I first started to work with street-sweepers in Lyon (France), I was startled by the adjective “dirty” so often used to qualify a public space covered by fallen tree leaves. Workers would explain that “a tree leaf is not dirty”, but as they are creeping everywhere, inhabitants and shopkeepers are complaining. Later on, I discovered that leaf litter was used by the city to produce compost, hence transforming it into a resource. However, barely any street-sweeper I had worked with had ever mentioned it to me... Meanwhile, while focusing part of my research on “work and pleasure”, it appeared that the potentiality of founding discarded objects from the streets was seen as a source of satisfaction by several of my co-workers. Hence, whilst the activity of collecting leaves is perceived by most street-sweepers as a central and necessary, yet particularly tiresome, way to fight “dirt”, and rarely connected to its recycling development, the practice of collecting discarded objects in the very same streets is often mentioned as an appreciated extra of their job. Bringing together these two threads of thoughts, I would like to explore the following hypothesis: Although both practices participate to some kind of transformation of waste into resource, it is the way they articulate different nature of “matters”, space, recipient, and body involvement, as well as the more obvious opposition of the status (prescribed/forbidden) of such activities, which makes them two very distinct process of recategorisation, and are therefore perceived and valuated differently by their actors.