RESEARCH


My research traces waste flows and unequal chemical relations between cells, bodies, the micro-ecologies of my field sites, planetary ecology, and sometimes the otherworldly in order to reveal the multi-scalar politics of pollution in the anthropocene.

Country of Waste: The Environmental Politics of Dictatorship and Revolution in Tunisia

Image of the dethroned president Zine EL Abidine Ben Ali amongst the rubbish during the garbage crisis. Courtesy of Nawaat.org

Image of the dethroned president Zine EL Abidine Ben Ali amongst the rubbish during the garbage crisis. Courtesy of Nawaat.org

‘Nheb Naish (We want to live): Stop Pollution’ graffiti in the city of Gabes, where Tunisia’s phosphate industry poison’s people, animals, land, and sea.

‘Nheb Naish (We want to live): Stop Pollution’ graffiti in the city of Gabes, where Tunisia’s phosphate industry poison’s people, animals, land, and sea.

My doctoral dissertation investigated how dictatorships survive in bodies, landscapes, and institutions after revolutions. It demonstrated how these violent repositories shape revolutionary, and post-revolutionary realities. Based on 15 months of ethnographic research (2012-2015) amongst Tunisians affected by a waste crisis, environmental activists, development practitioners and government employees, I argue that a marriage between neoliberal economics and authoritarian politics produced unequal socio-natural relations between pollution, certain bodies, infrastructures, and landscapes. The regime sustained and concealed these inequalities through the manipulation of data, corruption, infrastructure and a facade of state environmentalism. I chart the emergence of this socio-spatial inequality from the racist hygienic ideologies of French colonialism through to structural adjustment programs and thereby interpret them in the context of the uneven social, economic and environmental costs of industries and global markets. The study demonstrates that state environmentalism under Ben Ali was a particular governing fiction that rendered polluted communities invisible. Within this system corruption lead to environmental pollution by undermining the enforcement of environmental legislation,  by producing decrepit waste management infrastructure, and by creating organizational cultures based on fear that further obscured environmental problems.I conclude that the waste crisis that followed the revolution was a rupture of political fictions that brought public secrets, formerly hidden communities and landscapes,  viscerally to the fore. This revelation lead to struggles over truths and meanings of the dictatorial past. Due to the physical ubiquity of waste and the reemergence of marginalized communities associated with it, this conflict was expressed in the language of waste, thereby shaping the post-revolutionary experience of Tunisia and turning it into the balad el-zible (country of rubbish).