Opportunities in Discard Studies (Dec 2017)


Photo by Robert Wallace


Call for papers: JEP 2019-1 Waste and globalised inequalities
Special Issue Editor: Nicolas Schlitz, Stefan Laser

Global capitalism and its transnational production networks have grown and changed drastically during the last three decades. This was coupled with an exponential growth, also of waste. The resultant ‘waste problem’ involved various types of waste, found different articulations and provoked variegated practices of waste handling at multiple sites. In this special issue we want to discuss multiple perspectives of waste through the focus on inequalities. Existing studies have investigated the unequal distributions of wealth along the value chains of waste or unraveled the intersectional hierarchies at work in waste management and recycling. However, the mechanisms by which intersectional hierarchies and social inequalities are stabilised and intertwined globally still require further investigation.
In the field of waste studies, scholars tracked the billion-dollar industries of hazardous waste, drew attention to alternative practices of waste handling by marginalised communities, and addressed the impact of large-scale, capital- and technology-intensive waste infrastructures (often promoted by international financial institutions in the name of development). Waste thus appears as a mobile and slippery entity that escapes attempts to define and fix it. Indeed, it really hinges on differences as regards objects, and inequalities between people and value orders. However, there are (at least) three points of friction which require further attention:
(1) Spatial and material transgressions of waste flows and recycling networks, especially with regard to the invocation, reestablishment or challenge of globalised inequalities
(2) Informality and (un)contested processes of formalisation, and how they resonate with the renegotiation and reinforcement of intersectional hierarchies and capitalist social relations
(3) The relations between waste, work and value (orders)

Drawing on these frictions, we would appreciate (amongst other) contributions on:
– Recycling networks, logistics and the global trade in waste
– Single-site or multi-site case studies
– The Basel Convention and the proliferation of toxicants
– Waste-related conflicts and environmental justice
– Recycling economies and informalised recycling agents’ call for recognition and inclusion
– Contradictory processes of formalisation and integration of informal waste handling
– Public-private partnerships and the privatisation of municipal solid waste management
– Waste infrastructures and resistance to refuse-derived fuels and waste-to-energy projects
– Financialisation and technologisation of waste management
– Value regimes and competing practices of valuation
– Infrastructuring of inequality, as discussed in the field of science and technology studies

Deadlines: Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to global-waste@uni-osnabrueck.de  by January 28, 2018. Authors of selected abstracts will receive a notification by February 12, 2018. Papers may be submitted in German or English.
The deadline for submitting the full paper (6,000 words/40,000 characters) is April 22, 2018.


Post-doctoral Fellowship – The Politics and Practice of Waste Picker Integration

The “Lessons from Waste Picker Integration Initiatives” research project at the University of the Witwatersrand is seeking to award a one-year post-doctoral research fellowship focusing on the politics and practice of ‘waste picker integration’ in South Africa.  The post-doctoral fellow will be based in the Geography Division. The research project and fellowship are funded by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Science and Technology, and Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

About the Project and Role of the Post-doctoral Fellow
As in many countries in the global south, there is a long history of waste pickers in South Africa being stigmatized, criminalized, and harassed on a daily basis. In addition to being excluded from the formal waste management system, many waste pickers have been prevented from working informally as government and business privatize the waste commons and seize the new sphere of accumulation created by the very waste pickers they are dispossessing.

In 2011, the South African government committed to supporting waste pickers and joined the global trend of promoting ‘waste picker integration’ into municipal waste management systems and the recycling value chain. This policy shift has the potential to fundamentally transform the social, political, economic and cultural position of waste pickers in South Africa; however, this hinges on how integration is understood and implemented. The “Lessons from Waste Picker Integration Initiatives” research project therefore critically interrogates the theoretical and political foundations, contested politics, and effects of existing integration initiatives in two South African municipalities to distil theoretical insights, as well as concrete ideas regarding the form that waste picker integration should take in South African municipalities. Two key research activities are: 1) analysing how ongoing processes of exclusion, exploitation, and dispossession shape ‘integration’ initiatives and the very meaning of integration; and 2) identifying and theorizing processes and factors underpinning successful aspects of the integration initiatives.

For the past two years, teams of postgraduate students from a range of disciplines have conducted research on how waste pickers, the state and residents in the two municipalities experience and understand integration initiatives. The post-doctoral fellow will play a key role in synthesizing the students’ data and findings (and conducting new research as necessary) in order to develop a comprehensive, multi-layered understanding of waste picker integration in the two municipalities. “Lessons from Waste Picker Integration” extends beyond the realm of academic research, as in the second component of the project, the PI (Dr. Melanie Samson) is designing and facilitating the Department of Environmental Affairs’ participatory stakeholder process to develop National Guidelines on Waste Picker Integration.  The post-doctoral fellow will also have the opportunity to participate in and analyse this unique form of national policy development.

The specific tasks of the incumbent will be to:

  • Write academic reports that synthesize and theorize research conducted by the research team.
  • Conduct new fieldwork.
  • Be a senior member of the team facilitating the national stakeholder process and developing the national guidelines on waste picker integration.
  • Produce peer-reviewed publications, both individually and collectively
  • Mentor post-graduate students.


Applicants are expected to:

  • have a doctoral degree in an area of study relevant to the research project (Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, Urban Studies etc.)
  • be deeply familiar with academic debates in one or more of the following areas: waste, discard studies, recycling, waste picking, the relationship between waste and value
  • have solid experience conducting and analysing qualitative research
  • have excellent writing skills
  • have strong interpersonal skills and enjoy working collaboratively.

Value and Tenure
The value of the Fellowship is R250,000 per year, over a twelve-month period from April 2018 – March 2019. The fellowship does not include relocation costs or fringe benefits. Research funds are available for project related research. Conference grants may be available on application. The incumbent will be provided with a desk and appropriate access rights to use the university’s research facilities.

Application Requirements
Applications must be submitted by January 20, 2018 and include:

  • full CV
  • cover letter outlining your reasons for applying for the position
  • academic writing example
  • overview of experience working on issues related to waste picker integration
  • copies of academic transcripts
  • details of two referees.

Selection Process
Eligible and complete applications will be considered by the project leader, Dr. Melanie Samson, and a selection committee. The closing date for applications is 20 January, 2017.

Please email your application to Dr. Melanie Samson:  melanie.samson@wits.ac.za
Hard copies can be posted to: Dr. Melanie Samson, Bernard Price Building, University of the Witwatersrand, 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa 2001.
Please state in the email subject line or on the envelope that this is an ‘Application for the Waste Picker Integration Postdoctoral Research Fellowship’.

Further Information
For further information, please contact Dr. Melanie Samson – melanie.samson@wits.ac.za