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Between toxics and gold: devaluing informal labor in the global urban mine

Corwin, Julia Eleanor (2019) Between toxics and gold: devaluing informal labor in the global urban mine. Capitalism Nature Socialism. ISSN 1045-5752

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Identification Number: 10.1080/10455752.2019.1690533


Environmental discourses on electronic waste have converged around two framings of e-waste as a significant global concern: as a polluting and hazardous waste product, and as an under-tapped source of value: an “urban mine.” This paper argues that the discursive shift between these two framings is not based in material differences between either the electronics themselves or related labor processes; instead, the major determining factor in e-waste’s categorization as hazard or resource is based on the category of labor working on it and where it is located. Drawing on research in India’s used electronics industry, this paper argues that when associated with informal labor in the Global South, e-waste is easily devalued and judged a hazardous waste through devaluing the labor that works on it. The conflation of pollution with informal labor in the Global South offers such a powerful narrative, particularly in governance and industry circles, that it has become a significant way to devalue e-waste in the Global South, opening up “new” frontiers of value that would otherwise be captured by local, predominantly informal, industry. Thus, environmental concerns about the hazards of e-waste can be used to secure corporate e-waste markets through devaluing informal labor.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Center for Political Ecology
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: T Technology > TK Electrical engineering. Electronics Nuclear engineering
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2019 11:24
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:54

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