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On global plasticity: framing the global through affective materiality




As a pervasive, material element of the global, plastics raise potent social and environmental questions. More than merely the ‘stuff’ of potential global prosperity, plastics are substances people inscribe with varied cultural meanings. Deploying conceptual ‘entry points’ for global research (Kahn 2014), we explore how global plastics have become not only a site of an emergent socioecological crisis but themselves a point of leverage for a more humanized globalization (Barnett 2020). We approach the problem first as an exercise in reframing, taking Teaiwa’s (2014) conceptual entry point of frames to shift our viewpoint away from debates on waste to re-examine ideas of culture and symbolism. Then, working through the entry points of the particular (Harvey 2014), materiality (Gille 2014), and affect (McKay 2014), we ground our argument in examples from contemporary pandemic response, earlier ethnographic work, and our own ethnographic projects. We show how plastics have failed people’s desires for a durable modernity, but nonetheless come to shape the ways they feel and think about themselves and each other as sharing responsibility for a global world.

Acceptance Date Oct 14, 2020
Publication Date Nov 26, 2020
Journal New Global Studies
Publisher De Gruyter
Keywords affect, culture, desire, globalization, materiality, plastic
Publisher URL