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Issue No. 011

Vol. 11 - October 2009
Ethics of Waste
in the Information Society

IRIE, designed as a pure online journal, new issues announced by email, downloadable and fully readable as e-paper – in 2003 the founding editors really thought they have created a zero waste journal. But now we learned that much more has to be taken into account if one really wants to calculate the ecological bottom line of IRIE, includ-ing the electricity consumed by hosting the journal as well as reading it and above all the construction and disposal of the hardware engaged. Ultimately this expansion of the scope of our respective self assessment leads to an expansion of the scope of information ethics itself.

With this issue, IRIE – dedicated to the development of information ethics as a reflexive practice and conceptual horizon – aims to engage itself with the broad range of materials involved in the very acts and processes of communication, information, and knowledge production. This includes, but is not limited to, the instruments we employ, use, and discard in ever-shorter cycles of consumption, outpacing our efforts to develop appropriate mechanisms of disposal and recycling: from old television sets to LCD and plasma displays, from old disk drives to flash cards and RFID chips.Used locally, but designed, produced, and discarded across the world, the usage of these instruments – things – raises a lot of questions whose technical and political implications are increasingly being explored in an emerging regulatory regime, but whose info-ethical dimensions deserve greater attention as they require us to revisit cherished assumptions regarding the scope and desirability of information-societal developments as we know them.

The contributions to this issue offer the concept of network ecologies as a way to open info-ethical reflection to geophilosophical perspectives (Zehle), revisit the history of electronics activism and regulation (Smith, Fonseca and de Carvalho Matie-lo), reflect on the need to rethink waste or debris as resource for socio-technological innovation and survival (Vallauri, Renno), attend to the ecological impact of networks of distributed labor (Miller) and the biopolitical dimension of the simultaneous governance of waste and work (Rossiter), remind us of the material embeddedness of all info-ethical, geophilosophical reflection to encourage the embrace of an ethics of passage (Carter), and insist on the need to take abundance rather than scarcity as point of departure and reference and develop holistic approaches attentive to their complex relationship (Verzola).

Together, the authors offer themselves as interlo-cutors in info-ethical exchanges, some directly, some from within different (perhaps even incom-mensurable) analytical frameworks, recalling that acts of translation are always already involved in any attempt of ethical reflection.


Matthias Feilhauer, Soenke Zehle
and the editors

Vol. 11 (full journal)
edited by Matthias Feilhauer and Soenke Zehle
pdf-fulltext (1.005 KB)


Network Ecologies: Geophilosophy between Conflict and Cartographies of Abundance
by Soenke Zehle
Language: English
abstract:   In the context of network-ecological thought, information ethics is perhaps best understood as a transversal reflexive practice, aimed at identifying the stakes attending the creation, consumption, and disposal of infor-mation technologies. To situate itself as well as potential interlocutors, such a thought requires correspondingly complex cartographies, a multidimensional mapping of practices and presuppositions, of individual, collective, institutional actors as well as the conditions of possibility of their mutual engagement. Such cartographies do not assume the existence of the „local“ or the „global“ as a given. Instead, they attend to the way human and non-human actors and the discursive and material practices they are involved in contribute to construction and reconstruction of geocultural formations. Reapproached from within such a „network-ecological“ horizon, information ethics becomes geophilosophy, generating new modalities of intervention in the conflictual dynamics associated with the social-economic life of waste.

Why we are „Challenging the Chip“: The Challenges of Sustainability in Electronics
by Ted Smith
Language: English
abstract:   Ted Smith, co-founder of some of the first organizing efforts in the field of electronics activism, recounts the transformation of Silicon Valley from an agricultural center into the first hub of a global electronics industry and the rise of electronics activism in response to growing evidence of the industry's environmental and occupational health hazards. From their original focus on Silicon Valley, activists have broadened their effort to focus on end-of-life issues, especially through the demand for extended producer responsibility. They also address the globalization of production hazards, addressed through an „International Campaign for Responsible Technology” that links local actors and organizations in North America, Europe, and Asia in a global effort to advance a comprehensive agenda of labor rights and environmental justice.

Notes from the Field: E-waste in Brasil - Lixo Eletrônico and MetaReciclagem
by Felipe Fonseca and Daniela de Carvalho Matielo
Language: English
abstract:   As probably every other country in the world, in recent years Brazil has seen an immense increase in the production and consumption of electro-electronics equipment, which generates, as expected, an equally large amount of e-waste. However, there is a general lack of information about health and environmental issues among actors involved with the e-waste cycle, and very limited public discussion about the topic. Also, proper legislation to regulate the destination of all this material does not yet exist. The National Policy on Solid Residuals, which has been discussed in the Brazilian Congress since 1991, had shown signs of including e-waste management. But the responsible working group in the Chamber of Deputies has recently decided to make an amendment to its 33rd article, dealing with the regulation of reverse logistics (take-back) and mandatory recycling of special waste, and no longer considering electronic equipment as such. In response to that, the collective Lixo Eletrônico decided to publish a manifesto and open an online petition drawing attention to the change in the bill. The article offers an overview of the situation and the issues involved and explains the action that is being carried out by the Lixo Eletrônico Collective, presenting the first outcomes and next steps.

Beyond E-waste: Kenyan Creativity and Alternative Narratives in the Dialectic of End-of-Life
by Ugo Vallauri
Language: English
abstract:   The focus of green IT campaigns and policy interventions in developing regions has been on efforts to counter the flows of e-waste coming from the West. This paper argues that while such interventions are necessary, they often fail to acknowledge the complexity of information-technological developments across the global South. Complementary narratives can uncover a more nuanced perception of the role played by second hand ICT equipment in development. E-waste is at first contextualized within the wider debate on the contested role of technology in post-development. Examples of the multi-dimensional role of technolog in development initiatives in Kenya are used to provide evidence of existing cultures of reuse and of their potential to inform and influence a shift in Western ICT consumption patterns, in line with contemporary debates on de-growth. Examples of alternative approaches to development in the context of ICT abound, and it's key to focus on those that have roots in the creation of value right where others would see only waste – translating the ethos of the grey economy in projects that reclaim economical and educational spaces.

Dejetos Materiais e Informacionais como Elementos Culturais
by Raquel Rennó
Language: Spanish
abstract:   To reflect on waste is to think of it beyond cycles of consumption, as an integral element of cultural processes. The essay broadens the analysis of waste to speak of cultural remainders in a more comprehensive sense, including populations that exist (and have to subsist) at the margins of the official city, often through acts of reappropriation generally considered piracy. Such reappropriation is central to the informal economies whose control evades the cybernetic approaches to governance, and whose cultural logic offers a counter-rationality to dominant processes of consumption. Piracy is a strong element of informal economies, and its mode of production and distribution operates through fragmentation, occurring in the interstices of the city or in an ephemeral manner in order to escape surveillance. Strategies of evasion and the fluidity of the market of illegal goods, the ephemeral appropriation of space by street peddlers, by garbage collectors and inhabitants of residual spaces offers a broader view of a dynamic of info-technological recodification that is not restricted to groups of tactical media, political activists, or the terrain of digital media such as Internet and mobile telephony.

The Oldest New Network: The Division of Cultural Labor and its Ecological Impact
by Toby Miller
Language: English
abstract:   Perhaps the most basic network in modern life is the division of labor. It certainly rates alongside family, school, and town. That inexorably leads to a discussion of how resources are allocated within this division, who exercizes power, and what happens when the network meets a seemingly natural or unnatural end. For networks that may appear extremely stable can come to abrupt or scheduled conclusions, when a company goes bankrupt or a school cohort breaks up. This article briefly examines the history of the division of labor, with particular reference to culture and to its internationalization, concluding with a brief discussion of how short-term networks can lead to the exploitation of workers and have a devastating ecological impact.

Translating the Indifference of Communication: Electronic Waste, Migrant Labour and the Informational Sovereignty of Logistics in China
by Ned Rossiter
Language: English
abstract:   This essay is interested in the relationship between electronic waste and emergent regimes of labour control operative within the global logistics industry, the task of which is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. It considers the production of non-governable subjects and (regional) spaces as they figure in the relation between electronic waste, global logistics industries and biopolitical technologies of labour control.

Polyhedral: Recycling Boundary Ecologies
by Paul Carter
Language: English
abstract:   Foregrounding the extent to which 'place' remains resistant to the politics and poetics of 'network culture', this essay approaches place as a boundary ecology rather than as an instance of cultural invariance. It calls on readers to think about attempts to actively recycle cultural 'debris' or 'waste' through an ethics of passage instead of the kind of instrumentalist statics that prevents the development of an ontology of mobility. Con-tending that such a capacity to inhabit passage is compromised by the eschatological language used to communicate the implications of environmental disaster, as well as by languages of consultation that (con-ceptually) empty place of any creative power to incubate alternatives – events, modes of relation –, the essay stresses the mythopoetic techniques that produce places as knots or nodal points within a network of passage. The designer's task is to create the hinge mechanisms that render such boundary ecologies inhabitable imaginatively, and by materialising the nexus between creativity and change to alter our position vis-a-vis our ethical responsibilities as citizens of a shared biosphere.

21st-Century Political Economies: Beyond Information Abundance
by Roberto Verzola
Language: English
abstract:   As a result of the relatively low cost of digital reproduction, a global transformation is occurring in the nature of products and processes and in types of goods and services. Arising from information abundance, this global transformation is making the phenomenon of abundance a major field of study, not only for economists but also for other social scientists and physical scientists as well. This essay proposes an economic definition of abundance and a typology of sources of abundance. It argues that real economic abundance can come about only when the demand for a good is finite and the plentiful supply makes the abundant good affordable enough to all members of society. It lists an abundance-nurturing ethic as a major goal of abundance management, and encourages economists to make abundance together with scarcity their conceptual point of departure. Finally it links the phenomenon of abundance to the concept of the commons.


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