Blanca Callén

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Caring for e-waste: Electronic vulnerabilities, material wears and conceptual limits

 In front of the ‘naturalized’ progress and innovation of electronics, as if they were ‘dematerialized’ objects that can be easily consumed and thrown out without any consequences (Gabrys, 2011), we find some informal practices that bring the dirt to the surface and confront us with failure: collecting, recovering, dismantling, hacking or re-assembling obsolete computers might be considered as caring practices that re-materialize electronics and reveal how waste/computer’s ontology and value aren’t something inherent but unstable, heterogeneous, precarious and multiple (De Laet & Mol, 2000; Mol, 2002; Beisel & Schneider, 2012). They turn the apparent certainty and robustness of computers as ready-for-consumption objects into uncertainty and vulnerability. Nevertheless, if we apply a feminist philosophical perspective (Butler, 2001, 2006, 2009, 2010; López-Gil, 2013) to this e-waste’s transformation, we will find that the mentioned precariousness, finiteness or vulnerability are just some ontological conditions for raising supporting bonds for life within our material world. Combining works on repair and maintenance (Henke, 1999; Graham & Thrift, 2007; Gregson et al. 2009; Dant, 2009; Denise & Pontille, 2011; Jackson, 2013: Middleton, 2013) with feminist readings of care (Tronto, 1993; Precarias a la deriva, 2003; Mol, 2008; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2010, 2011), I will explore the limits and possibilities of these informal ‘caring’ activities around e-waste as care (for matter) practices that incorporate certain concerns and ethico-political commitments to neglected things in a finite world. In this sense, I propose to essay and imagine an ethics (of care) for e-waste. It implies to respond: what kind of ethical orders emerge from this daily world-mending works over e-waste’s vulnerability, brokenness and obsolescence? But also, as a resulting reflective exercise, what are the limits of care as a conceptual tool when dealing with e-waste?
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