E-waste is toxic, but for whom? The body politics of knowing toxic flows in Delhi

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Bodily knowledge and lived experience of toxic exposures in e-waste markets are central to policies and legal frameworks that are being rolled out globally enforcing the “polluter pays” principle. Yet, the sensory experience of toxicity is far from the straightforward, narratable knowledge, which it is often made out to be. This article builds on twelve months of research into the process of establishing formal e-waste recycling channels in New Delhi, India. Environmental practitioners and e-waste workers, each in a different relation to power and toxicity, presented contradictory understandings and challenged the continuity between sensing bodies posed by environmental advocacy narratives. Acknowledging the difficulty to pin down lived experience, I compare the certainty with which employees of a producer responsibility organisation present toxicity for the purpose of spreading awareness to the ambivalence with which informal e-waste recyclers relate to the toxicity in their own environment. The paper highlights the process of turning bodily experience into knowledge and proposes that knowing toxicity is the result of socially and economically inflected relations between bodies, chemicals, forms of knowledge, and the material dismantling process. Rather than accepting the immediacy of sensory experiences, or looking to find the authentic witness, I suggest a triangulation of bodies differently positioned in relation to the processes and places in question.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Early online date29 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jul 2023


  • Bodily knowledge
  • bourgeois environmentalism
  • e-waste
  • slow violence
  • toxicity


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