Doctoral Dissertation Research - Sarah Moore: The Politics of Garbage

  • Moore, Sarah (CoI)

Grants and Contracts Details


This Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement project will analyze conflicts over municipal solid waste in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. The research will contrast the spatial and representational tactics and strategies of two core groups and their allies, all of whom are engaged in political infighting over MSW management in the city. These two main groups are: (a) neighborhood activists, who are opposed to the current location and management of the dump; and (b) scavengers, who have squatted on the dump and make their living recycling items from it. These two groups employ different representations of garbage (as risk or resource); implement distinct spatial-organizational strategies; and forge competing networks with state and non-state (NGO), local and global, organizations. These networks enable the two core groups to affect management of the dumpsite and the direction of broader urban development policy. In order to assess these politics, the research addresses the following primary question: How are different perspectives on garbage - from risk to resource - mobilized through (a) the spatial strategies of the organizations (including how they operate in urban space, the spaces they appropriate during protests, and their coalition building), and (b) their representations of the garbage problem? A set of ancillary questions is: To what extent do views of garbage as a resource or risk vary for the rank-and-file members of the organizations? How does this variability affect organizational cohesion? And, to what extent is this cohesion mediated by intra-organizational differences along the lines of class, gender, and indigeneity (among Oaxaca's 16 different indigenous groups). More generally, this research will contribute to the understanding of MSW problems and solutions in the global south. While much attention has been paid to the "garbage crisis" in northern countries, especially the United States, less attention has been paid to the politics of garbage in the global south. Ironically, at the time that northern countries are dealing with the aftermath of decades of siting problems and costly and environmentally suspect MSW technologies, countries like Mexico are trying to import these very same knowledges and practices in an effort to "modernize". Within this very different cultural milieu, however, garbage is not simply "waste," but also "ore" - a resource mined as a part of household survival strategies. These distinct understandings and uses of garbage underlie a number of key conflicts over urban land and struggles over social reproduction in the global south. In short, in Oaxaca as in many other growing cities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the politics of MSW are rooted in conflicts between neighborhood activists, eager to secure a healthy environment, and scavengers, who survive on the discards of the formal economy. Further, the ideals of sustainable development as proposed by local NGO leaders and national and international organizations are realized only in and through particular places such as Oaxaca. As urbanization increases throughout the global south, the identification of locally appropriate technologies to deal with concomitant pollutions concerns relies therefore, on inquiries grounded in the local realities of issues such as municipal solid waste management. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.
Effective start/end date5/1/0310/31/04


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