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Accepted Paper:

Plastic Technologies and Metabolisms of Repair in Urban Ghana  
Brenda Chalfin (University of Florida and Aarhus University)

Paper Short Abstract:

Opposed to treating plastics as harbingers of toxicity, research explores the labors and material transformations of plastics repair. Using artisanal and industrial substances and sensibilities, repairers are attuned to plastics’ unique metabolism and admixture with human and other natures.

Paper Abstract:

Across the world, the large-scale technical systems are in decline, supplanted or supplemented by alternative orders. In the urban centers of the global south, this is evident in the inadequacy of urban infrastructural grids, unable to keep pace with urban growth or the finances of state authorities. In West Africa’s cities, the techno-material and commercial contours of urban water systems reflect such conditions of public divestiture. In the stead of mass-provisioning, smaller scale technical solutions prevail, transforming water access from a durable public good to privately owned and managed technology, commoditized and ephemeral. Widespread reliance on plastic water storage tanks across classes and climes in countries such as Ghana embody this trend.

Focusing on a squad of plastic tank repairers in Ghana’s savannah city of Tamale, this paper examines the care and repair of plastics water storage technologies. Opposed to treating plastics always and already waste and harbingers of toxicity, research explores the labor, knowledge, and material transformations produced in these encounters. Utilizing a combination of artisanal and industrial substances and sensibilities, repairers demonstrate attunement to plastics’ unique metabolism and admixture with human and other natures. They display sensory acuity to the organic attributes of these mass-produced goods: plastic tanks’ interactions with humidity, harsh sunlight and harmattan winds; corrosion induced by contact with sand and soil, and responsiveness to the careful application of heat and fire. Moving beyond broken world thinking, techniques of plastic repair demonstrate labile sense of materiality, bridging organic and inorganic, machinic and human, science and craft.

Panel P210
Technology matters: ethnographies of technological adoption beyond the Western world
  Session 1 Thursday 25 July, 2024, -