1. IS
  2. FR
  3. Actualités

"Colonial Inhalations: E-waste work and Wastemen in Necropolitical Ghana"

Publié le 16 février 2024 Mis à jour le 6 juin 2024

On 13 June (4-6 PM), FORAGENCY, the SHOC research Group and the Atelier Genre(s) et Sexualité(s) from the Université Libre de Bruxelles are thrilled to welcome Prof. dr. Kwame Edwin Otu (Georgetown University) for an exceptional lecture on his ongoing research with e-waste pickers in Accra. This event will take place at Hoek 38, room Gogotte (Leuvenseweg 38, 1000 Brussels). Attendance is free, but registration mandatory via this link

Lecture abstract

On March 30th 2024, I received news that one of the electronic waste workers participating in my ethnography on the effects of e-waste work in Agbogbloshie and Sodom and Gomorrah, in Accra, Ghana, and allegedly the location of the world’s largest e-waste dump, had died. Until his demise, he had been working for nearly half of his life on the dump. This talk is my tribute to him and an opportunity to highlight the “slow violence” at the core of the postcolonial nation-state. In this presentation, I examine how colonial configurations of power and dispossession internal to the Ghanaian nation-state interact with e-waste workers in ways that reduce them to waste. I explore how e-waste workers’ exposure to toxic fumes from burning obsolete technology both conceals and makes visible the necropolitical matrix of the postcolonial nation state. Colonial inhalation is used here to describe how the inhalation of toxic fumes exemplifies how the nation-state adjudicates the rhythms of breathing for its subjects. I draw on Frantz Fanon’s notion of “combat breathing,” which captures how the colonized hold on to their last breath for survival amid the unyieldingness of coloniality and the Ghanaian writer, Amu Djoleto’s novelization of the “vampire state” in his book Money Galore. Reading Fanon and Djoleto together, I illuminate how the colonial state’s metamorphosis into a postcolony recalibrates the logics of extraction and deposition. The question guiding this presentation is twofold: How does e-waste work articulate the ways in which the unyielding nature of coloniality induces combat breathing? And in what ways is coloniality predicated on wasting, wasted, and waste as the lives of e-waste workers reveal?


Prof. Otu is a cultural and environmental anthropologist working on the politics of sexual, environmental, and technological citizenships, public health, and their intersections with shifting racial formations in neocolonial and neoliberal Africa and the African Diaspora. His first monograph, Amphibious Subjects: Sasso and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana, was published by the University of California Press in 2022.

Le 13 juin 2024

Hoek 38