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  • Publication
    Accès libre
    Modern waste : the political ecology of e-scrap recycling in China
    ([Neuchâtel] : [Institut d'ethnologie], 2018) ;
    English : This PhD dissertation addresses changes that have taken place in recent years in the People’s Republic of China regarding the image, fate and value of discarded electrical and electronic equipment (DEEE, also known as “e-waste”) and of the people who make a living by trading, transporting, and transforming this type of object. It originates in multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Guangdong Province for a total of eighteen months (2014-2016), during which I paid particular attention to objects’ materiality, recycling technologies, valuation practices, representations of waste/wastefulness, and state-society relations. Drawing on scholarship from the sociology of public problems, China studies, political ecology, discard studies, environmental politics and the socio-anthropology of development, my research interrogates China’s state program of “ecological modernization”. In particular, it analyzes the central government’s project of “formalizing e-waste management and treatment” and its implementation on the ground, at the local level. Official discourse in China justifies formalization by the need for improved pollution control and resource efficiency. However, as my research reveals, this explains only a small part of the revolution in material and symbolic approaches to DEEE that unfolded in early twenty-first century China. In particular, this does not account for the conspicuous absence of self-employed workers, family businesses and small and micro enterprises from China’s new regulatory system and the industrial sub-sector this system gave birth to. These social actors and economic entities, often referred to collectively as the “informal sector”, dominated scrap recycling and object stewardship during the era of “reform and opening”. Some of them engaged in polluting practices, but others contributed in essential ways to object reuse, which is widely acknowledged as extending product lifespans, and thus reducing the overall environmental impact of EEE production and consumption. And yet, in China, the “informal sector” as a whole suffered from stigmatization, exclusion and dispossession. Based on this observation, I conclude that, in order to understand China’s official solution to the “e-waste problem”, one should understand it as a response to the need for displaying markers of modernity, environmentalism being but one of them. Technological progress, material abundance and a position at the top of the international community, among others, also played a key role in shaping Chinese “e-waste” policies.