Thinking with and beyond (in)visibility in the Anthropocene

Authors: Mohammed Rafi Arefin*, New York University
Topics: Middle East, Anthropocene, Urban Geography
Keywords: waste, labor, anthropocene, justice, Cairo
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Capitol Ballroom 3, Hyatt Regency, Fourth Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


How might debates about waste in the Anthropocene be reconfigured when examined from the struggles of garbage collectors? In the aftermath of the January 25, 2011 revolution, the struggles of Cairo’s Zabbaleen became visibly aligned with the calls for bread, freedom, and social justice. Yet 8 years later, the Zabbaleen’s conditions remained unchanged; after waves of violence, their situation is more precarious than ever. Using oral histories, I detail the tactics through which the Zabbaleen are organizing for a less precarious role in Cairo’s sanitation system. These range from educative campaigns and grassroots petitioning to appearances on popular television shows. I argue that the concepts of visibility and invisibility, often deployed in the humanities and social sciences to explain inequality in Anthropocene, do not do justice to the tactics that the Zabbaleen are employing. Displacing these ocularcentric analytics, I argue that the Zabbaleen are engaging a politics of neglect and awareness. By detailing this case in Cairo, I am arguing for concepts of social and environmental justice in the Anthropocene that are not founded on the widespread but lacking descriptors of visibility and invisibility.

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