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Accepted Paper:

Enacting responsibilities: waste management policy and practice in Cambodia  
Justin Lau (The Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how waste management in Cambodia produces 2 types of responsibilities, one entails disciplining both citizens and the microbial life of waste, the other foregrounds the more-than-human relations. I consider how we may reframe ‘responsibility’ through the concept of ‘care’.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how the idea of responsibility is articulated in waste management policies and strategies in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Through examining the recent government report on waste management and the responses to these strategic plans from community-based organisations (CBOs), I demonstrate the emergence and the ethico-political entailments of 2 types of responsibilities. In the past two decades, waste generation has proliferated dramatically in Cambodia, producing 3,000 tons of waste per day. It is estimated that the average annual municipal waste generation has soared from 0.136 million tons in 1995 to 0.681 million tons in 2015 (Spoann et al. 2019). In terms of the waste composition, 63.3% of the waste is made up of food waste with rich microbial life (Seng et al. 2010). Within this context, I first show how microbes and other chemicals found in waste are governed and constructed as the source of greenhouse gases in the government report. Further, through a moralising narrative, the report holds individual citizens responsible for environmental crises. Contrary to the state narrative, I discuss how a growing number of waste management CBOs utilise technology (e.g., composting) to engage people to care about the environment. Accordingly, these CBOs aim to foreground ‘relational responsibility’ that cultivates interdependent relationships with multi-species and microbes to deal with waste. Reflecting on the theoretical work in feminist STS, particularly the work of Puig de la Bellacasa (2017), I suggest that we cannot reframe and practise responsibility differently without thinking about care.

Panel Exti03
Responsibility in a more-than-human anthropogenic world: conceptions, negotiations and anticipations
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -