Don't Waste the Space – How Theorizing Relations Between Space, Waste and Organization Contributes to Comparative Analysis of Informal Worker Organizing

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Melanie SAMSON, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Sonia DIAS, WIEGO, Brazil
The majority of workers in the informal recycling sector throughout the world are not organized. However, in the last three decades reclaimers (also known as waste pickers) in a range of contexts have begun organizing around their collective demands. Increasingly, they are also sharing experiences, ideas and strategies, both within and across countries. In this paper we draw on more than ten and almost thirty years respectively working with, and studying reclaimer movements in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as well as the global level to contribute to the emerging body of scholarship on comparative studies of informal worker organizing. In seeking to understand commonalities and differences in how reclaimers organize we make three key interventions. The first relates to method. Existing comparative studies (including some or our own) tend to conduct comparison of places and movements framed as discrete units of analysis. Instead, we argue for and employ Hart’s (2006) method of “relational comparison”. Second (and relatedly), we argue that comparative analyses need to be rooted in a Lefebvrian ([1974 1991]) understanding of the production of space in order to move beyond comparisons that see places simply as containers where different movements organize and focus alternatively on how space, social identities (both individual and collective), politics,  practice, and organization are forged in relation to one another. Finally, we argue that although the fact that each  reclaimer movement organizes around waste and recyclables leads to commonalities, the different meanings attributed to, and histories of waste within different places lead to important differences that also present challenges to organizing across space and scale.