Dr. Peter Little, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, is working on an international social science research project in West Africa entitled,
An Ethnographic Political Ecology of Electronic Waste Recycling and Risk Mitigation in Accra, Ghana. Dr. Little, whose interests include environmental and medical anthropology, is seeking to uncover the stories, truths, and myths regarding electronic waste (e-waste) in this area of the world.
Dr. Little received support through the Rhode Island College Faculty Research Fund and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research to continue research on the social, political, and environmental dimensions of the e-waste industry in Ghana.
“The story of e-waste dumping and recycling evolves as information continues to unfold,” said Dr. Little. “The stories and experiences of e-waste recyclers on the ground run deeper than most journalistic photographs and articles presenting on of the e-waste issue in Ghana.”
In particular, Dr. Little is studying the local impact and efficacy of a new “model” e-waste recycling facility established by an international environmental NGO (non-government organization) and overseen by scrap workers in Agbogbloshie, Ghana. As Dr. Little notes, e-waste recyclers face a number of hazards in the work they do, especially the practices used to extract valuable copper from e-waste (e.g., burning electronic wires).
“The issues are complex, entangled, and workers tell a multi-dimensional narrative,” said Dr. Little. He hopes his on-the-ground ethnographic research serves to “update the on-going circus of representations of [Ghana] because it has become a focus of journalists, artists, and photographers.”
In the summer of 2015, Dr. Little used support from his Faculty Research Fund award to begin exploring the region, making contacts and connections, and better understanding the realities and experiences of Ghana’s e-waste recyclers for himself. Over the next two summers, through the support of the Wenner Gren Foundation, Dr. Little will return to Ghana to continue his ethnographic research.
“Although there is e-waste in Ghana, auto waste is even more prevalent. In the scrap yard, recyclers’ burn auto tires as a primary fuel source to ignite electronic wires to extract copper,” noted Dr. Little. “This is one of the reasons why, as an anthropologist studying electronic waste in Ghana, [my being there] exposes a complex situation. It is not simply an electronic waste dump site. It is a site for a lot of different things going on. You need to hang out there to understand what is going on.”
Dr. Little hopes to shed light on this complex human and social issue, which is occurring in a relatively small and defined space compared to other e-waste recycling facilities in other parts of the world. His research will help to inform the social and environmental studies disciplines, as well as the public at large, about the multifaceted nature of e-waste, human need and behavior, and risk mitigation approaches in Ghana today.