Archaeologies of Electronic Waste
Issue: Vol 2 No. 1 (2015)
Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology
Subject Areas: Archaeology
The toxicity and volume of electrical waste (commonly referred to as e-waste) forms one material legacy of contemporary digital culture which emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the deleterious material impacts of technological assemblages upon human and ecological systems, and asks serious questions about the sustainability and ethical orientation of current technocultural systems. Globally, around 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated each year, and this waste is considered to be toxic due to the presence of a “witch’s brew” of substances which are highly hazardous to humans and other biotic systems. Whilst there exist inter-, supra-, and national laws and conventions mandating that most OECD nations (the US being a notable exemption) cannot legally export hazardous wastes to non-OECD nations, there exists a vibrant illegal market in exporting e-waste which is systematically mislabelled as working second-hand electronics goods for sale in emerging markets, with an estimated 50–100 shipping containers of illegally exported e-waste arriving daily in Hong Kong. This short essay seeks to sketch several ways that media archaeology and archaeologies of media provide productive apertures through which to consider issues surrounding e-waste, whilst contextualizing how media archaeology fits within the broader field of materialist media studies.
Author: Sy Taffel
Basel Action Network. 2012. Turn Back the Toxic Tide: 2012 Annual Report. Seattle, WA: Basel Action Network.
____ and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. 2002. Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia. Seattle, WA: Basel Action Network. Available online: http://www.ban.org/E-waste/technotrashfinalcomp.pdf
Beller, J. 2006. The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
Buchli, V. and G. Lucas. 2001. Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past. London: Routledge.
Coole, D. and S. Frost, eds. 2010. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822392996
Cubitt, S. 2014. “Decolonizing Ecomedia.” Cultural Politics 10(3): 275–286. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2795669
Cubitt, S., R. Hassan and I. Volkmer. 2011. “Does Cloud Computing have a Silver Lining?” Media, Culture & Society 33(1): 149–158. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0163443710382974
Dewsbury, J. D. 2010. “Performative, Non-Representational, and Affect-Based Research: Seven Injunctions.” In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Geography, edited by D. DeLyser, S. Herbert, S. Aitken, M. Crang and L. McDowell, 321–334. London: SAGE. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9780857021090.n20
Dolphijn, R. and I. van der Tuin. 2012. New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. Ann Arbour, MI: Open Humanities Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/ohp.11515701.0001.001
Electronics TakeBack Coalition. 2011. Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling. Available online: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures_on_EWaste_and_Recycling.pdf
Elsaesser, T. 1990. “Early Cinema: From Linear History to Mass Media Archaeology.” In Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, edited by T. Elsaesser and A. Barker, 1–8. London: BFI Publishing.
Faber, D. 2013. “The Unfair Trade-off Globalization and the Exportation of Environmental hazards.” In Environmental Sociology: From Analysis to Action, edited by L. King and D. McCarthy Auriffeille, 237–252. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
____. 2008. Software Studies: A Lexicon. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/9780262062749.001.0001
Gabrys, J. 2011. Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/dcbooks.9380304.0001.001
Ghazala, Q. R. 2004. “The Folk Music of Chance Electronics: Circuit-Bending the Modern Coconut.” Leonardo Music Journal 14: 97–104. http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/0961121043067271
Goddard, M. N. 2011. “Towards an Archaeology of Media Ecologies: ‘Media Ecology’, Political Subjectivation and Free Radios.” Fibreculture Journal 17: FCJ-114. Available online: http://seventeen.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-114-towards-an-archaeology-of-media-ecologies-%E2%80%98media-ecology%E2%80%99-political-subjectivation-and-free-radios/
Graves-Brown, P., R. Harrison and A. Piccini. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199602001.001.0001
Harrison, R. 2011. “Surface Assemblages: Towards an Archaeology in and of the Present.” Archaeological Dialogues 18(2): 141–161. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1380203811000195
Harrison, R. and J. Schofield. 2009. “Archaeo-ethnography, Auto-archaeology: Introducing Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past.” Archaeologies 5(2): 185–209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11759-009-9100-5
____. 2010. After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holtorf, C. and A. Piccini. 2011. Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Huhtamo, E. 1999. “From Cybernation to Interaction: A Contribution to an Archaeology of Interactivity.” In The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, edited by P. Lunenfeld, 96–111. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
____. 2011. “From Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerd: Notes Towards an Archaeology of the Media.” In The New Media and Technocultures Reader, edited by S. Giddings and M. Lister, 296–303. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Kitchin, R. and M. Dodge. 2011. Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/9780262042482.001.0001
Kittler, F. A. 1999. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Parikka, J. 2011a. Medianatures. The Materiality of Information Technology and Electronic Waste. Bletchley, UK: Open Humanities Press.
____. 2011b. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28(5): 52–74. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0263276411411496
____. 2012a. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9(1): 95–100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2011.626252
____. 2012b. What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity.
Penrose, B. 2003. “Occupational Lead Poisoning in Battery Workers: The Failure to Apply the Precautionary Principle.” Labour History 84: 1–19. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/27515898
Roman, L. S. and J. Puckett. 2002. “E-scrap Exportation: Challenges and Considerations.” In Electronics and the Environment, 2002 IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, 79–84. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/isee.2002.1003243
Shirky, C. 2009. Here Comes Everybody: How Change happens When People Come Together. London: Penguin.
Taffel, S. 2012. “Escaping Attention: Digital Media Hardware, Materiality and Ecological Cost.” Culture Machine 13. Available online: http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/viewArticle/468
____. 2013. “Scalar Entanglement in Digital Media Ecologies.” Necsus: European Journal of Media Studies (Spring). Available online: http://www.necsus-ejms.org/scalar-entanglement-in-digital-media-ecologies/
____. and S. French. 2002. “The Automatic Production of Space.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 27(3): 309–335. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-5661.00057
Vidal, J. 2013. “Toxic ‘E-waste’ Dumped in Poor Nations, says United Nations” Observer 14 December. Available online http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/14/toxic-ewaste-illegal-dumping-developing-countries