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Why Notions of Responsibility Perpetuate Climate Capitalism

My article “Reshuffling Responsibilities” is out with Worldwide Waste Journal! Here I argue that responsibility is enacted predominantly along with unified moral fixes, marginalizing “nature” and others by disregarding the power of postcolonial ways of doing politics in Cambodia.

Responsibility is often understood either as an action performed due to a fixed condition (juridical definition) or as something pushed through by top-down processes (biopolitics of subjects). In this article, I highlight three aspects that extend this scope:

  1. First, predominant (mainly Western) notion of responsibility in form of moral fixes, i.e. defining how to behave morally correctly as a citizen, is enacted through long-established and wide-ranging ways of doing politics in Cambodia. Based on the problematization of waste, responsibility is part of waste fantasies that navigate politics through the "crisis," displacing other conceptions and locally derived forms of responsibility (for waste). Responsibility as a means of biopoliticizing the subject is thus not just a temporary and top-down process "in the moment," but reaches far back into (colonial) history and is spread transversally (e.g., on behalf of well-intended waste recycling or reduction efforts)

  2. Second, I argue, that responsibility is also understood as part of alternative urban citizenship, i.e. by local waste pickers. Through a way of caring for one’s surroundings that is an expression of urban belonging, a sovereignty-through-waste is enacted. Marginalized urban dwellers are thus participating in the concrete shaping of their city environment by resisting waste recycling programs that are based on predominant notions of responsibility.

  3. Third, urban wastelands that seem intangible to climate capitalism and waste reduction programs are correctives to anthropogenic politics and can provide clues as to what a future policy of waste responsibility should look like: Derived from aspects of belonging, caring, and sovereignty, responsibility is thus conceived as a process of positioning oneself in relation to the (surrounding) world and thus being able to unveil urban futures from "the margins."

Access to full article here.

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