Scrounging and reclaiming

Authored by: Jeff Ferrell

The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415782265
eBook ISBN: 9780203725351
Adobe ISBN: 9781135005399


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Around the world, from the wealthiest of cities to the poorest of villages, people engage in the daily process of scrounging and reclaiming discarded food, clothing, electronics, plastics and metal. Often this work is organized and undertaken by those on the margins of contemporary society – the very poor, the urban homeless, rural peasants or members of lower social castes – and often such work is located in society’s spatial margins as well – down back alleys or atop isolated landfills. Because of this, widespread scrounging and reclaiming are often easily enough ignored, or imagined to be an issue only for those consigned to it. But in a real sense we, too, are complicit in the process of scrounging. We are privileged enough to have the means of purchasing and consuming the goods offered by contemporary capitalist economies, and these consumerist economies, and the waste that they (and we) inevitably produce, form the primary material basis for global scrounging and reclamation. In this sense it could be said that contemporary scrounging and reclaiming are organized by the dynamics of global consumer capitalism, and by our own everyday patterns of consumption, waste and disposal. Yet, marginal as they may be, those who scrounge the material discards of contemporary society are not simply passive recipients of this waste. Instead, they regularly organize themselves into small-scale communities; they invent mechanisms by which to store, repurpose and redistribute the waste they salvage; and they develop shared structures by which to turn this reclaimed waste into dynamic forms of mutual aid and social change. In this way, contemporary scroungers not only organize themselves and their lives around waste reclamation, they reorganize the waste itself and begin to shape alternative forms of social and economic life.

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