Article Alert! Collection of Recent Articles on Discard Studies from E-waste to Shoddy

In the past several months, many new articles on waste, discards, and pollution have been published in various academic journals. Here are some highlights for your summer reading list:

Michele Acuto, “Everyday International Relations: Garbage, Grand Designs, and Mundane Matters,” International Political Sociology
Garbage is stuff that matters: the generation, disposal, and management of waste represent some of the most visceral flows in our society. Yet most international scholars continue to regard it as trivial to focus on the mundane practices and menial materiality associated with managing rubbish. Contra this dissociation, and through an analytics of assemblages, I argue that international theory can (and nowadays must) encompass both the grand designs of diplomacy and the mundane cosmopolitics of everyday life. In the everyday, the “international” is embodied, performed, and domesticated. I chart these multi-scalar connections as they unfold in Sydney, Australia, demonstrating how a focus on a global challenge such as climate change has been redefining the mundane realities of waste management.

Zsuzsa Gille, “The Organization of Uncertainty: A New Theoretical Approach to Food Waste,” Conference on The Future of Consumerism and Well-Being in a World of Ecological Constraints.
This article utilises the concept of waste regimes in order to understand the global connections involved in generating food waste. This concept treats waste as a social relationship and assumes that in any economy there is a waste circulation in addition to a value circulation, and that the two are interdependent. For this reason, the author critiques metaphors, such as value chains or supply chains that have dominated the scholarship on food and agriculture. Creatively utilizing secondary empirical data on the Global North and South from that scholarship, the findings indicate that the unequal organization of uncertainty is a key structural determinant of food waste production in both. The relationship between risk and waste stretches across not only geographical but also scalar boundaries, revealing that solutions to the “food waste problem” limited to technological innovation and a few sites or even countries will prove insufficient and will likely exacerbate existing inequalities.

Josh Lepawsky, “Are We Living in a Post-Basel World?” Area.
The Basel Convention (the Convention) is a key piece of law governing the international waste trade. The spirit of the Convention is to prohibit the dumping of hazardous waste from ‘developed’ countries to ‘developing’ countries. Yet, a careful consideration of the Convention suggests a problematic geographical imaginary at work in it. It imagines a bi-modal world comprised of what it calls Annex VII countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Community (EC) and Lichtenstein) and non-Annex VII countries (all other signatories) and seeks to prohibit the shipment of hazardous waste from the former to the latter. In effect, what this geographical imaginary attempts to institute is a world of trade in which all non-Annex VII territories are equally vulnerable to hazardous waste dumping from Annex VII territories, but not vulnerable to such dumping amongst themselves. Yet, the non-Annex VII grouping contains a hugely diverse set of countries, including the two largest non-Annex VII economies, China and India. Drawing on textual analysis of Convention documents and trade data available for China and India, the paper engages with recent research into the growing role of ‘South–South’ trade to critically engage with the geographical imaginary of the Basel Convention. It suggests that as the global patterns of hazardous waste trade shift, the relevance of the Basel Convention’s geographical imaginary declines.

Graham Pickren, “Making connections between global production networks for used goods and the realm of production: a case study on e-waste governance,” Global Networks.
Recent scholarship on waste within economic geography and global production network (GPN) studies has identified several unique characteristics of networks for used goodsvis-à-vis ‘traditional’ GPN studies focused on production, exchange and consumption. However, in un-bracketing GPNs to include analysis of post-consumption activity, identifying how the distinct moments of production, exchange, consumption and disposal/recycling are related becomes a crucial task. Towards this end, I present a case study on the governance of e-waste networks that draws upon discussions of performativity and Hudson’s cultural political economy approach to GPNs. In my analysis, I demonstrate how multiple factors, such as ideological differences over how to handle e-waste, the non-standardized nature of used goods, as well as production factors such as design choices and planned obsolescence, all shape and disrupt efforts to standardize and coordinate resource recovery and hazard mitigation in the post-consumption phase of electronic goods. Such analysis moves past the novelty of GPNs for used goods toward a more integrated understanding of GPNs as a whole.

Lindsey Dillon, “Race, Waste, and Space: Brownfield Redevelopment and Environmental Justice at the Hunters Point Shipyard,” Antipode.
This paper advances the concept of “waste formations” as a way of thinking together processes of race, space, and waste in brownfield redevelopment projects. Defined as formerly industrial and contaminated properties, in the 1990s brownfields emerged as the grounds for new forms of urbanization and an emerging environmental remediation industry. Through their redevelopment, the twentieth century’s urban wastelands—environmentally degraded, economically divested, and often racially marked—have become sites of investment, resignification, and value formation. The concept of waste formations provides a critical framework on the ways these socio-ecological transformations rework twentieth century urban inequalities—in particular, the articulation of waste and toxic waste—and the ways they produce new geographies of environmental injustice through the displacement of toxic waste to newly waste-able spaces. This paper develops an analytic of waste formations and applies it to the process of brownfield redevelopment at the Hunters Point Shipyard in southeast San Francisco.

Anna Stanley, “Wasted Life: Labour, Liveliness, and the Production of Value,” Antipode.
This paper asks how Dene (and alongside it non-human) life is connected to the production and circulation of value in the Canadian uranium economy. I examine the ways in which life links up with value during the lifetime of the mine and at the time of a major public inquiry into its health and ecological effects. Against the backdrop of the highly uneven and deeply racialized economy of nuclear production I make two intertwined arguments. First I argue that “wastage” is a reconfiguration of nature integral to the production of capitalist value in which capital addresses itself directly to the vital processes of (some) living things. Second, at a time when the relational politics that shaped value were being actively subverted by claims publicly advanced by Deline First Nation Dene about cancer death and contamination, I argue that a risk calculation central to the Canada Deline Uranium Table’s analysis worked to governmentally secure evidence of wastage and restore the configurations of in/visibility that shaped value production in this economy.

Hanna Rose Shell, “Shoddy heap: a material history between waste and manufacture,” History and Technology: An International Journal
This essay uses a present-day mountain of textile waste known as ‘shoddy’ as an entry point into the history and ramifications of the development of wool recycling technology in West Yorkshire, England. It is argued that this entity, produced since the early nineteenth century by means of the collection, shredding, and re-spinning of old and discarded wool rags, emerged as both technological innovation and raw material. Its history, defined in part by its precarious position at the nexus of waste and manufacture, is that of a reconfiguration of technology with simultaneously ethical, political, and environmental dimensions.

Rosalind Fredericks, Vital Infrastructures of Trash in Dakar,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
The last twenty-five years in Dakar have seen countless institutional reorganizations in the city’s municipal trash collection system, an explosion of informal recycling and disposal practices, frequent and prolonged garbage strikes, and widespread concerted acts of public dumping. Fredericks’s article examines the messy politics of trash in Dakar through considering the infrastructure of municipal garbage collection as a critical site of contestation around urban citizenship. The devolution of the central burdens of garbage infrastructure onto labor has meant that municipal trash collectors and the other citizens informally managing garbage in the home, community, and garbage dump are called upon to serve as the backbone of the city’s waste collection and disposal architecture. The material relations between infrastructure and labor are probed for what they reveal about practices of government performed through differentially ordering spaces and disciplining residents via the burdens of dirt, microbes, and abjection associated with laboring in filth. Social and bodily technologies are thus revealed to be key elements within a wider gamut of techniques constituting urban infrastructure. At the same time, strikes, dumping, and workers’ appeals to the value of cleaning in Islam are shown to subvert ordering paradigms through disrupting the proper flow of waste disposal and inverting its negative associations. The intimacy of this low-tech labor infrastructure and the specificity of waste’s material and discursive dimensions provide fertile ground on which to contest the disposability of labor and lay bare the ethics of infrastructure