1. 12. 2022

‘Settled Unsettling: Handling Informal Practices in E-waste Management’ presentation at 2022 AAA Annual Meeting in Seattle

Barbora presented a paper at the Flash Presentations panel on Environment and Health at 2022 AAA Annual Meeting on November 10, in Seattle, USA.   

Settled Unsettling: Handling Informal Practices in E-waste Management

Barbora Stehlíková

Discarded electronics are globally linked with many unsettling issues, starting from exporting so-called second-hand electronics into developing countries with lax environmental laws and ending with the open dumps where cables are burnt in an open fire. Similarly, the local management of e-waste in Czechia is characterized by the unsettling rising from questionable informal practices of some companies. In my ethnographic research among various actors of e-waste management in Czechia, I came across frequent complaints, especially about a company that operates in a compliance take-back scheme and does not provide the proper processing of e-waste. Nonetheless, the competitors of this company do not try to attack it. Instead, the inimical practices are understood and approached as something settled and easier to handle.

This paper deals with the relation between unsettled activities and those seen as settled and asks how the involved actors negotiate it. Building upon Ledeneva’s understanding of informal practices as ambivalent, I see the informal practices within e-waste management as unsettling from the outside but ambivalent from the inside. The situations generally perceived as unsettling can be discerned with a closer look, involving the constant tension between unsettling facts and the search for something settled. I argue that settled and unsettled do not simply represent binary categories, but they are constitutive forces enabling change and transformation. The informal practices can be understood as contributing to settling and certainty.

More info about the conference here.