£20.99 | $37.95

9 August 2012
ISBN: 9781780321943
312 pages
216 x 138mm

Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Development, Economics, Geography, International Relations, Politics, Sociology and Social Policy

Also available as Hardback

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Economies of Recycling

The global transformation of materials, values and social relations

Contributions by Laura Bear and volume editor Joshua Reno and Catherine Alexander

For some, recycling is a big business; for others a moralised way of engaging with the world. But, for many, this is a dangerous way of earning a living. With scrap now being the largest export category from the US to China, the sheer scale of this global trade has not yet been clearly identified or analysed. Combining fine-grained ethnographic analysis with overviews of international material flows, Economies of Recycling radically changes the way we understand global and local economies as well as the new social relations and identities created by recycling processes.

Following global material chains, this groundbreaking book reveals astonishing connections between persons, households, cities and global regions as objects are reworked, taken to pieces and traded. With case studies from Africa, Latin America, South Asia, China, the former Soviet Union, North America and Europe, Economies of Recycling shows how marginal economies are producing new social collectives and projects around local and global decay, often with waste labour bringing high monetary reward as well as danger.

Replacing the persistent notion of globally peripheral countries being ransacked for raw materials, which are then transformed into valuable commodities in the North, this timely collection debunks common linear understandings of production, exchange and consumption and argues for a complete re-evaluation of North-South economic relationships.


'In this superb collection, what had been dismissed as mere waste or simple recycling is found to be immensely productive in the creation of a second tranche of commodities, complex labour relations, new global linkages, the creation of value and highly sophisticated analysis and theory. Only from this point can debate on these topics be genuinely called informed.'
Daniel Miller, Professor of Material Culture, University College London

'Garbage dumps in Rio, textile recycling in northern India, mountains of discarded IT equipment in China, global circulations of uranium: this remarkable collection really lifts the lid on the global sociologies, politics and geographies of waste and recycling - in their widest possible sense. The result is an unprecedented richness in understanding how the recycled use of all manner of materials work to sustain large swathes of our world and why this matters fundamentally for our planet's future. Economies of Recycling is a genuine Tour de Force!'
Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society, Newcastle University

About the Authors:

Catherine Alexander is a professor of anthropology at Durham University. Most of her work is concerned with shifting configurations of state, market, society and the third sector. This has also informed her work on waste. She has published on the community waste and recycling sector in Britain and waste as material and metaphor in Kazakhstan. Her current research is on attempts to revitalize Kazakhstan’s nuclear energy industry, reusing expertise and equipment left over from the Cold War.

Joshua Reno is an assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University and is primarily interested in the intersections between environmental issues and science and technology. He conducted his doctoral fieldwork on transnational waste circulation and mega-landfills, their transformation of landscapes, lives and communities in rural Michigan, and their relationship to environmental politics and neoliberalism. From 2008 to 2010 he studied emerging European technologies in the fields of health and the environment, their innovation, contestation and governance. He has written articles on waste, energy, communication and material culture.