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Accepted Paper:

“Informal recycling and Gulu’s urban planning: tensions between top-down and bottom-up sustainability practices”  
Amarilli Varesio (University of Milan-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

The study explores the tensions that have occurred in the execution of the IPILC, a program that aims to modernize the waste management in Northern Uganda. The conflict regards different visions of the urban future and interrogates the notion of sustainability and its exclusive forms of inclusion.

Paper long abstract:

The study focuses the attention on the “social life” of plastic, a common thread in the mosaic of informal actors working in the sector.

Plastic is traded around, articulating relationships among participants driven by motivations beyond subsistence. In Gulu's Pece and Laroo neighborhoods, at the center of an insurgency and a refuge for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, plastic is a “social currency” that ensures access to sources of income and citizenship for self-employed workers with little formal education and no capital to invest.

In the post-conflict urban context of Gulu, through the circulation of this material, new social networks are created that enable people to cope with everyday material and existential precarity and rebuild their lives in a condition of prolonged displacement, where the lack of basic social ties, broken by war, has generated a process of forced migration and marginalization to the city.

When, however, plastic is appropriated from above, by the anonymous machine set in motion by sustainability programs promoted by international actors, although driven by ideas of efficiency, the poor’s expectations of participation and aspirations in a better future risk to be expropriated from projects that make sustainability look neutral and unchallenged.

Therefore, as spaces are transformed in the name of the environment and of infrastructural resilience, practices are depoliticized and disinvested of their social connotations, continuing to reproduce unequal urban landscapes that dispossess long-term IDPs of informal pathways to citizenship.

Panel Anth07
Assembling the sustainable city: from sedimented injustices to just urban futures
  Session 1 Thursday 1 June, 2023, -