Robin Nagle

Director of Draper Program

Ph.D. 1994, M.Phil., 1991, M.A. 1989, Columbia; B.A. 1987, New York,


Dr. Nagle is an anthropologist whose research focuses on the category of material culture known variously as garbage, rubbish, refuse, trash, or waste. She is particularly interested in its labor and infrastructural requirements in urban contexts. She explores the many reasons that labors of waste and logistical necessities of successful large-scale solid waste management are accorded a form of invisibility, despite their essential role in political, economic, environmental, and cultural debate. She also asks what it means for workers to commit to a professional endeavor that carries a significant stigma even as it is fundamental to the city’s well-being. In addition, she looks at how metropolitan regions are literally shaped by trash, since many urban spaces have been formed by landfilling, and how notions of public health and hygiene are inextricably connected to assumptions about appropriate street cleanliness and garbage collection protocols.

In 2006, Nagle was named anthropologist-in-residence with the Department of Sanitation in New York City. She is working with colleagues in the DSNY and at NYU to organize the Department’s archives, to establish an on-going Oral History Project, to create a Wall of Honor for city Sanitation personnel killed on the job, and to found the city’s Sanitation Museum. She is also finishing an ethnography about what it is to be a sanitation worker. The book, called Picking Up, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2013.

Selected Publications

Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City (2013, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux); Claiming the Virgin: The Broken Promise of Liberation Theology in Brazil (1997, Routledge); "A Plague in the Villages," in Covering the Plague: AIDS and the American Media (1989, Rutgers).