Precarious Bodies, Embodied Knowledges: Gendered infrastructures of discard in Dakar, Senegal

Authors: Rosalind Fredericks*, New York University
Topics: Urban Geography, Africa, Gender
Keywords: urban, Senegal, waste, gender, precarity, materiality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the last 50 years, reclaimers at Dakar’s sprawling dump, Mbeubeuss, have carved out intricate salvage economies built upon specific forms of material expertise. Their labors are necessarily infrastructural: the built form of the dump is only the scaffolding within which a whole socio-material infrastructural ecology of expert labor, community systems, spirits, faith, and elaborate inner worlds of garbage unfolds. This chapter examines the dump’s most distinctively gendered space: the tight-knit minority Christian women who gather food waste on the active dumping platform to feed to the pigs they raise for pork on the edge of the landfill. Perhaps the most stigmatized of dump labors and most threatening in terms of waste’s dangers, food waste collection involves a careful relationship with organic materials—in all of their opportunity and risk—through which the processes of decomposition can be managed and value exploited. It is also the most precarious salvage economy on the dump in the face of new state plans to “upgrade” vernacular material practices of recycling. This chapter unpacks the delicate mastery of the embodied, political, and spiritual risks entailed in this most filthy of dirty work. It examines how women navigate their bodies’ porosity in an effort to attenuate bodily precarity, their careful strategies to gain representation in the face of intense stigmatization, and the ritual practices through which they preserve spiritual integrity. Insight is gleaned for understanding the gendered intimacies of waste infrastructures and the embodied knowledges through which people create value and manage precarity.

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