Jacob Badcock (UCL) - 2021-22 Students

On the Antiblack Materiality of Media: Critical Approaches to e-Waste

In view of recent antiracist movements, most notably Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall, much work has been done to decolonise cultural institutions and public monuments. However, more theoretical and practical work is required to consider the restitution of artefacts and materials beyond the institution. My project aims to fill this gap. It sets off to investigate practices of physical material reclamation in West Africa, with a focus on Ghana and Nigeria. I specifically take the problem of electronic waste (e-waste) disposal as a point of departure for studying the histories of racialised extractive violence which underpin the use of rare earth materials, such as copper and gold, in media objects. I also examine the emergence of e-waste mining labour – the practice of recovering valuable metals and metallics within e-waste – as a form of anti-colonial resistance interior to neo-colonial extraction economies. Crossing disciplinary boundaries and the established genres of media and materials, my project contributes to art historical knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it suggests the value of art history for constituting the unconstituted histories of antiblack extractive violence which ground contemporary media. It combines critical readings of scholars in contemporary and media archaeology, such as Jussi Parikka, to develop an antiracist ‘geology of media,’ which examines contemporary media ‘from the material realities that precede media themselves,’ such as geological formations, minerals and energy, whilst accounting for the antiblack exploitation of said material realities, as diagnosed by Kathryn Yusoff. Secondly, it contributes to a rich toxicological literature on the biological and environmental impacts of e-waste disposal, enriching scientific knowledge of the problem of e-waste with a cultural and historical understanding of the racialised histories of rare-earth mineral extraction under corporate-colonialism.

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