Junk Territory: Financial Collapse and Displaced Labor in Beirut

Apr 11, 2022, 1:00 pm1:20 pm
Near Eastern Studies and Program
Free and open to the public
Event Description

Speaker: Elizabeth Saleh, American University of Beirut

Respondent: Satyel Larson, Princeton University

This talk is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted for six years with a group of Syrian waste pickers based at a Beirut scrapyard. The book project aims to establish an agenda for thinking through the noxious entanglements of displacement, family, underage labor, and disparate waste regimes. On the one hand, I explore how global and national policies toward migration and waste management have shaped the conditions in which young wageless migrant waste pickers have become essential to profit-making in economies of recycling –– scrap copper and iron continue to be two of Lebanon’s leading exports. While on the other, I pose the question: What happens to life when all that is contingent to home and household become discarded, dispersed, and forced into exile? I will discuss coming of age inside the scrapyard in the context of protracted displacement and financial volatility. I will tentatively explore a significant transition as narrated by waste pickers from that of a multi-layered experience of waiting to one of exhaustion.

Elizabeth Saleh is currently a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is an Assistant Professor in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at the American University of Beirut. She works at the intersection of political and economic anthropology.