Knowing Fatbergs: Waste as Matter, Monster and Mystery

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In September 2017 media across the world reported news of a discovery made in the sewers of London. A so called fatberg, consisting of flushed down fat, wet wipes and nappies blocked the sewage system. What was fluid had congealed, and what was hidden became visible, provoking repulsion and a need to act forcefully. We are interested in what happens when something hitherto hidden and unknown calls for attention. What was discovered and disclosed in the sewers of London? By studying media reports on the discovery of the fatberg, the musealisation of parts of the fatberg and a subsequent TV-documentary, we analyse what happens when waste takes the form of a monster. As the monster is fought, conquered, exhibited, dissected and analysed, experiences of disgust, fascination, ridicule and awe are induced. Through such practices, the fatberg moves, resists and reveals what has been hidden. It connects the city with bodies, carries and is carried by heritage of an uncanny, dark, but also comical, kind. The discourses on the fatberg form the base of our case study, where the focal point is the encounter with a dark being, and the material, affective and moral entanglements in different ways of handling and understanding the consequences of our lifestyle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162–180
JournalEthnologia Scandinavica
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Body
  • monster
  • urban
  • fatberg
  • musealisation
  • waste


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