Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, Vol 2, No 1 (2015)

Archaeologies of Electronic Waste

Sy Taffel
Issued Date: 2 Sep 2015


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.

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DOI: 10.1558/jca.v2i1.27119


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