Archivo de la etiqueta: Otros proyectos/Other projects

Discard Studies Compendium

Discard Studies Compendium

The Discard Studies Compendium is a list of critical key terms. In the past few years there has been both a resurgence of approaches to studying waste and wasting as well as an interest in the potential of waste to build interdisciplinary bridges of relevance to pressing questions of our time.

This list is critical in the sense that it comes out of methods in the humanities and social sciences that contextualize the problems and systems that are not readily apparent to the invested but casual observer. Our task is to trouble the assumptions, premises and popular mythologies of waste. Waste and pollution are the material externalities of complex cultural, economic, and political systems, and solutions need to address these wider systems rather than fall to technological or moral fixes that deal with symptoms rather than origins of problems.

This online version of the Compendium is the initial step of a larger project that aims to create a print version with a comprehensive list of terms. The greyed out terms in the chart are a small sample of an expanded future list. If you would like to contribute terms to the online or print version of the Compendium, please email Max Liboiron at

The Discard Studies Compendium is a project by Max Liboiron, Michele Acuto, and Robin Nagle.

Core Concepts Methodologies Critical Histories
Abjection Humans-as-waste Solid waste management Materiality Actor-Network Theory Disposables
Camp Legal issues in waste Waste flows Nuisance Follow-the-thing Incinerators
Cottage-Industrial pollution Neoliberalism Waste-to-energy Ruins Life-cycle Analysis Landfills
E-waste Nuclear wastelands Body burden Sacrifice zones Media Archaeology Pollution
Environmentality Nutrient rifts Dirt Sinks Political Economy Recycling
Garbage Patch Sacred waste Freeganism Throwaway society Science and Technology Studies Scrapyards
Hoarding Segregation Industrial ecosystem Waste regime Visual Art Wastelands

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Speculative Historiographies of Techno-Trash

We are soliciting personal histories of technological use, disuse, and disposal. Send us your stories and photos, and help raise awareness about the social and environmental impacts of our personal technologies and media practices.

Speculative Historiographies
of Techno-Trash

This is a project lead by Mél Hogan and Andrea Zeffiro.

A recent study completed by the Solving E-Waste Problem (StEP) initiative estimates that the amount of global electronic waste will increase by 33 percent, from the 49 million tons tracked in 2012 to over 65 million tons by 2017 (StEP 2013). Given the magnitude of waste, what if we were required to physically store and care for our personal devices, such as cell phones and desktop computers, long after these machines served their intended function? In such an imaginary, unusable technologies remain within our sights, and in our sites.

This project is an opportunity to think through this query by digging into the numerous layers in which our personal technologies and media practices contribute to a mode of ‘technological trauma’ and ‘drama’ that is best described as the trauma and drama of disembodied techno-trash (McLuhan 1962, 1965; Pfaffenberger 1992).  For McLuhan, it was electric speed that inundated even the most remote areas in the world with Western technology. Today, the West continues to deluge the Global South with its devices and gadgets, but more often than not, these technologies quickly become obsolete and inoperative, or simply, trash. Electronic waste is increasingly unloaded in countries like China, Ghana, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Vietnam, where facilities or regulations governing recycling initiatives are lax.

Weaving together personal accounts of technological ownership, this project speculates on the life cycles of our devices and gadgets, and postulates not only the environmental burden of contemporary consumption practices, but also the scale of environmental trauma and drama that is symptomatic of global capitalism.

We are soliciting personal histories of technological use, disuse, and disposal.

Send us your stories and photos, and become a participant in raising awareness on  the social and environmental impacts of our personal technologies and media practices.

Questions to consider include but are not limited to:

• What technological devices do you use on a daily basis?
• How did you acquire these devices?
• How often do you change/update your phone/laptop?
• What usually makes you want to change your device?
• What devices are you no longer using, but haven’t disposed of?
• How have you disposed of your devices?
• Where do you dispose of them?
Do you consider the social and environmental impacts of your devices?

TEAM: Techno-Trash is a research project initiated by Mél Hogan and Andrea Zeffiro. As the project evolves, the research team will expand to include a network of scholars, activists, artists, and practitioners invested in topics that intersect the perils of technological waste.

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Mapping the International Trade and Traffic of Electronic Waste

Researcher: Dr. Josh Lepawsky

Our technologizing world is one fraught with radical social, political, and economic unevenness. Digital technologies and the industries that produce them are often represented as desirable economic development strategies. Yet, there is a growing recognition that these high-tech products and industries exact significant environmental and social costs that belie optimistic predictions about the emergence of a de-materialized and sustainable ‘Information Age’.

In 2006, Canadians disposed of 140,000 metric tonnes of obsolete electronic equipment or ‘e-waste’. The United Nations estimates that anywhere between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated globally; and according to activist groups, 50 to 80 percent of the e-waste designated for recycling domestically in Canada is actually being exported overseas to be processed by poor and marginalized populations in ‘developing’ Asian and African countries.

No single definition of e-waste exists, but in Canada the emerging targets of legislation include personal computers (PCs), laptop computers, monitors, peripherals (e.g., printers, scanners, disk drives), telephones, mobile phones, and facsimile machines. The dominant approach to e-waste in this legislative milieu is to conceptualize it as a problem to be mitigated through technical engineering and regulation. Typically, the disposal of e-waste is understood as an endpoint within a linear process of production and consumption that culminates in land-filling or incineration. However, there is an important body of research notably in anthropology, geography, history, and sociology that understands disposal and waste quite differently. Rather than an endpoint in a narrowly defined economic process, disposal is understood to be part of complex cultural practices of social constitution, ritual, and reproduction that have not only changed over time in our own society, but also vary geographically in culturally distinctive ways.

Repair and refurbishing of rubbish electronics in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Figure 1: Rubbish electronics repair and refurbishing, Dhaka, Bangladesh.


E-waste recyclign event in Vancouver, BC

Figure 2: Rubbish electronics recycling, Vancouver, British Columbia.


From Mapping the International Trade and Traffic of Ewaste…

Dr. Lepawsky’s research interests in the geographies of the international trade and traffic of electronic waste are organized around the following kinds of questions:

  • How much and what kind of e-waste is exported from Canada and where does it go?
  • How are the licit and illicit trade networks for e-waste formed and organized?
  • Where, by whom, and under what conditions is e-waste processed domestically and abroad after it is exported from Canada?
  • How do the domestic and international divisions of labour involved in e-waste processing contribute to the capture and/or creation of value from waste?
  • How do the emerging patterns of e-waste legislation strategically use and represent the geographies of ‘waste’ and ‘value’? What are the implications of those representations for policy and practice?
  • How do materials designated as ‘e-waste’ in one place become sources of ‘value’ elsewhere?


…to Reassembling Rubbish Electronics

Research into the above questions has lead to a series of publications that have begun to rethink the dominant storylines about e-waste. A recently successful SSHRC Insight grant is enabling Dr. Lepawsky and a team of researchers to ask new questions. These include:

  • What is the ‘right’ thing to do with e-waste? Where, how, and under what conditions should electronics be recycled?
  • How might a better understanding of the knowledge, skills, and creativity of workers in foreign markets, who re-imagine and rework electronics disposed of in Canada and elsewhere into new commodities, lead to a rethinking of electronic waste as a potential source of value?
  • Is a system of ‘ethical’ or ‘fair’ trade in e-waste — which would include, among other things, material and component recovery as well as repair, refurbishing, and reuse of machines —  a viable alternative to the existing strategies of national and international legal prohibitions against e-waste exports from ‘developed’ to ‘developing’ countries? If so, what would such a system of trade look like and how would it be regulated/governed?
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