Accepted Paper:

The war for iron: ethnification and criminalization of scrap-picking in Turin, Italy  

Author:

Cecilia Vergnano (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnographic research about Roma camps in Turin, this proposal aims to highlight the role of camps’ dwellers in political urban economy and specially in management of urban waste, analyzing a process of criminalization of informal (and “ethnified”) workers and their responses.

Paper long abstract:

Based on an ethnographic research about Roma camps in Turin, this proposal aims to highlight the role of camps' dwellers in urban economy and specially in management of urban waste. As Rennó (2013) pointed out, despite hegemonic discourses about ecology and sustainable development is gaining in importance, the paper of waste informal workers is not socially recognized - on the opposite, their activity is often criminalized.

In Turin, during the winter of 2013, took place what local media called "the war for iron". Local authorities forbade scrapyards' owners from buying scrap from private individuals without regular license. That caused a real turmoil in the consolidated equilibrium of local scrap market, in which participated also factories' owners, that illegally got rid of residues of industrial production. The most part of informal scrap pickers were Roma - many of them, camps' dwellers. Official explanation of the repressive measure focused on the increase of copper robbery. However, speaking informally with scrapyards' owners and local authorities, another explanation emerged: public sanitation company was increasingly taking part in a competition with informal waste picker for the access to metallic waste.

According to Marxist theory, capitalist economy tends to produce rapid obsolescence of goods, environmental degradation and rapid urban renewal processes. This way, while activities of slums' dwellers (such as waste picking and squatting of residual urban spaces) are represented as an ethnic issue and criminalized, they are strongly integrated in processes of 'creative destruction' which characterizes global capitalism.

Panel P148
Ethnographic explorations of formal–informal linkages in contemporary global economy and politics