Garbage Citizenship

Vital Infrastructures of Labor in Dakar, Senegal

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 22 illustrations Published: September 2018

African Studies, Geography, Sociology > Urban Studies

Over the last twenty-five years, garbage infrastructure in Dakar, Senegal, has taken center stage in the struggles over government, the value of labor, and the dignity of the working poor. Through strikes and public dumping, Dakar's streets have been periodically inundated with household garbage as the city's trash collectors and ordinary residents protest urban austerity. Often drawing on discourses of Islamic piety, garbage activists have provided a powerful language to critique a neoliberal mode of governing-through-disposability and assert rights to fair labor. In Garbage Citizenship Rosalind Fredericks traces Dakar's volatile trash politics to recalibrate how we understand urban infrastructure by emphasizing its material, social, and affective elements. She shows how labor is a key component of infrastructural systems and how Dakar's residents use infrastructures as a vital tool for forging collective identities and mobilizing political action. Fleshing out the materiality of trash and degraded labor, Fredericks illuminates the myriad ways waste can be a potent tool of urban control and rebellion.


"Garbage Citizenship isn’t solely about urban rubbish collection in Senegal’s capital. The book uses waste collector strikes and activism to explore broader effects of labour relations, citizen advocacy, neoliberal reform, and religious understandings of purity and pollution." — Christine Ro, Environment and Urbanization

"A powerful account of the centrality of infrastructure, waste and labor for writing larger stories of urban transformation and citizenship in Dakar and beyond." — Colin McFarlane, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Garbage Citizenship powerfully details. . . how the responsibility for waste has disproportionately fallen on the urban poor." — Jacob Doherty, American Anthropologist

"An engaging study of garbage infrastructure in Senegal’s capital that foregrounds both the human labor it takes to keep the city clean and the ways that failures to do so become goads to political action." — Dagna Rams, American Ethnologist

"Garbage Citizenship is a significant contribution and necessary reading for scholars of infrastructural governance and politics, labor geographies, African urban studies, and discard studies." — Kathleen Stokes, Canadian Journal of African Studies

“Fredericks’s book makes a compelling argument for the recognition of human labor as a key ingredient of urban infrastructure, with its social, cultural, historical, religious, and political embeddedness, in Dakar and elsewhere in the Global South, but more and more also in the Global North. Through it we can think about the ambiguity of public discourses on religious piety, or of the often-misleading representations of community participatory efforts, in addition to the way urban infrastructures are sites of power struggles and social resistance, both materially and symbolically.”

— Ricardo Falcão, African Studies Review

"As a nuanced and longitudinal case study of how the monumental task of waste management assembles profoundly heterogenous entities, Fredericks’ work is a generative addition to the anthropology of infrastructure." — Christine Hegel, Anthropology of Work Review

“Fredericks presents a dazzling excavation of the many strata of garbage politics. … Fredericks’s book gives us new tools for understanding how that power works.” — Chris Tilly, American Journal of Sociology

Garbage Citizenship is a major intervention that proposes new ways of thinking about religion, labor, community, and citizenship at the intersections of public health and the political economy of garbage collection disposal, infrastructures, and workforce. It’s an engaging and perceptive ethnography of material desires and ethical contradictions examined through the stories of the various actors involved in the municipal and state politics in the era of neoliberal reform.” — Mamadou Diouf, Columbia University

“Offering a thorough and highly original reading of urban politics in Dakar, Senegal, Rosalind Fredericks captures the cultural and political charge of waste, revealing how it comes to be a potent symbol of public life. She moves beyond the increasingly commonplace characterization of ‘people as infrastructure’ to identify how garbage emerges as a key field in which struggles over the terms of urban order and disorder, freedom and constraint, self-determination and state oversight, private and public life, moral value and moral disregard, all play out. An impressive and insightful work.” — Brenda Chalfin, author of Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rosalind Fredericks is Associate Professor of Geography and Development Studies at New York University and coeditor of The Arts of Citizenship in African Cities: Infrastructures and Spaces of Belonging and Les arts de la citoyenneté au Sénégal: Espaces contestés et civilités urbaines.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Trash Matters  1
1. Governing Disposability  27
2. Vital Infrastructures of Labor 60
3. Technologies of Community  97
4. The Piety of Refusal  123
Conclusion. Garbage Citizenship  149
Notes  155
References  171
Index  193
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Winner, Toyan Falola AGSS Africa Book Award, presented by the Association of Global South Studies

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