Why is it so Hard to Engage with Practices of the Informal Sector? Experimental Insights from the Indian E-Waste-Collective

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Stefan Laser


Electronic waste is one of the biggest and dirtiest waste streams worldwide, endangering humans and non-humans especially in the 'global south'. The government of India issued a new law to deal with this issue in 2011: the ‘e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules’. This article reconstructs the process by which this law was developed over eight years with ethnographically collected data. It points particularly to the ways the law threatens parts of the informal sector. 'Refurbishers’, who repair used electronic items, are ignored—even though they initially played a crucial part in the newly composed value chain, including during early draft of the electronic waste law. Such informal practices were neglected because of the particular focus of the legislature on modern recycling. This occurred because of the eerie imagination attached to the object electronic waste. Based upon voices from the informal sector, an alternative to this imagination is introduced and critically discussed: 'juggad', a new ideal of the broken down. Taken together, the diplomatic endeavour in this article wants to do more than show that the values of informal sector practices such as refurbishment are not appreciated. The goal is to also describe why it is so hard to engage with these practices in the first place. Bruno Latour's new approach, developed in 'An Inquiry into Modes of Existence' (2013), helps unfolding the argument. This recent shift in the actor-network-theory (ANT) renders a postcolonial reconstruction of democracy feasible.

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Author Biography

Stefan Laser, University of Kassel

Working as a research assistant at the Department of Sociology, Chair of Social Theory