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Title: Recovering requeche and classifying clasificadores : an ethnography of hygienic enclosure and Montevideo's waste commons
Author: O'Hare, Patrick
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 4835
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation centres on Montevideo’s political and moral economy of discards as experienced through the lives and labour of waste-pickers around Uruguay’s largest landfill, Felipe Cardoso. These workers are known as clasificadores [classifiers] in recognition of their role separating whatever can be recovered from the waste stream from that which cannot. Conducted from a base next to the landfill as a resident of the COVIFU housing cooperative, 12 months of continuous fieldwork and several subsequent visits consisted principally of participant observation conducted with neighbours who worked the waste stream at nearby dumps, recycling plants, and informal yards. The thesis builds on post-human discard studies by recognising the agentive role of the non-human in consecrating materials not only as waste, but also as a ‘commons’. A central idea is that Montevideo’s waste stream is comparable to the historic English commons in several key regards. These include the manner in which disputes over property status centre on use/ access rather than exchange/ ownership; the customary rights which are claimed by vulnerable subjects; and the provision of a refuge from wage labour. A central disciplinary contribution is forged by combining a renewed ethnographic interest in the commons with a historical perspective and the insights of the anthropology of infrastructure, kinship, and materiality. The commons that emerges is neither romantic nor post-capitalist but a vital, temporarily de-commodified space that thrives in the shadow of municipal infrastructure. The thesis is structured by the relationship between Montevideo’s waste commons and its attempted enclosure. Chapter two weaves ethnography of private and public sector waste managers with the history of municipal waste disposal in the city. It pinpoints technologies of containment and elimination as integral to a policy of ‘hygienic enclosure’ deemed necessary to limit waste’s capacity for hygienic and aesthetic chaos as part of attempts to grasp an ever-elusive infrastructural modernity. Chapter three moves from enclosure to the commons. It draws on ethnography conducted at the Felipe Cardoso landfill and explores waste-picker resistance to attempted hygienic enclosure before turning to historical comparison with the English commons. Chapter four narrows in on two material encounters – with melted ice-cream and plastic potatoes – that draw attention to the ways that particular materialities and affordances of what clasificadores call requeche (leftovers) prefigure both their emplacement in the waste stream and their extraction from it. Clasificador praxis is also shown to disturb the boundaries of the landfill as well as those separating subjects from objects and rural from urban commons. Chapter five returns to infrastructure, demonstrating how waste sustains relations of care while also being ‘reversed’ by the social infrastructure of clasificador kin-based labour. The final chapter draws on ethnography conducted at Montevideo’s Aries recycling plant, arguing that recent government waste policy blends clasificadores’ value-based approach to the waste-stream with a Catholic orientation towards the accompaniment of the poor. In privileging jobs for clasificadores, the state maintains a link between waste and vulnerability but encloses only a small fraction of waste-pickers in hygienic plants while dispossessing many more.
Supervisor: Lazar, Sian Sponsor: Econonomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: waste ; wastepicking ; precarity ; infrastructure ; Uruguay ; montevideo ; landfill