Risks and Repulsion: The Fatberg!

Ms Elizabeth Duncan1

1Ms., Sydney, Australia


In a more-than-human world when posing questions of whom or what is at risk and how resilience is constructed, attention is needed to how categorical divides of nature and culture or human/non-human may be presupposed or embedded. Fatbergs are a congealed mass of biodegradable and non-biodegradable solid matter in sewers; presenting a materialising problem, returning from the realms of that which is flushed away. The gothic allure of the Fatberg is a return to the troubling of categorical divides that are unsettled by the uncanny and the abject. The fatberg poses risks through its liveliness – where a system premised on movement and flux is met with sticky attachments –leading to system blockages. Two modes of analysis will be employed in order to understand what the materiality of the Fatberg puts at stake. The first involves a review of the considerations of exhibiting and archiving part of a fatberg at the Museum of London for the recent Fatberg! exhibition. The second is a discourse analysis of media on the subject of the fatberg – to understand how the fatberg is imagined. Ultimately I ask: how does accumulation and convergence come to matter within the fatberg?


Elizabeth is a current PhD student in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney.  Elizabeth has a Bachelor in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Sustainability from the University of Sydney. Elizabeth’s research focuses on waste. In particular she is interested in cumulative impact of the materiality of waste and its moment through and beyond Sydney.

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