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Cultural and Social Anthropology

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Lecture by Samwel Ntapanta: Polarised Cityscapes - Gathering Electronic Waste and Its Malcontents in Dar es Salaam

10.01.2023, 6.30 pm
Iwalewahaus and Zoom


Salvaging electronic waste (e-waste) is a critical sector of global south cities. Salvaging complements the gap of under-resourced waste collecting and handling institutions. It also offers employment and steady income to many crumbling from the high unemployment rate and economic inequalities. How can we understand e-waste salvaging and its malcontents in a polarised global south city?

Based on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork among informal electronic waste recyclers in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, I explore e-waste salvaging and its polarisation through walking in Dar es Salaam cityscapes. Walking with my Walimu (teachers) during their labour, I travelled along the trail of value production; things moved, and people moved to generate value. Arguably, walking connects different parts of the city, material objects, histories, and violence, enhancing the city's knowledge and materiality.

This lecture focuses on collecting, the first stage of e-waste salvaging process which further down the value circle includes reusing, dismantling, sorting, and repurposing. I argue that e-waste collection in Dar es Salaam can be very well understood through walking, the main labour method used by electronic waste gatherers (e-gatherers). Crucially, walking exposes the ethnographer to physical obstacles, ingenuity, valorisation processes and violence of post-modern consumerism that waste collectors experience during their endeavours. Walking also enhances understanding of class polarisation, inequality in the distribution of built infrastructures and colonial histories that persevere. 

Link to Zoom

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