Life Beyond Waste
Work and Infrastructure in Urban Pakistan
Waqas H. Butt


Contents and Abstracts
1 Introduction
chapter abstract

Following decades of rapid urbanization, Lahore now produces more waste than at any other point in its history. Much of these materials are taken away by waste workers. Though having different religions, these workers come from low- or noncaste groups (Dalits) that have historically been landless laborers in Punjab and worked under landowning groups from upper-caste backgrounds. On the other hand, Lahore's ascendant middle and upper-middle class is drawn heavily from these same landowning and upper-caste groups. Such forms of life built upon caste-based relations have been reproduced through their entanglement with the worlds of waste in contemporary Pakistan. In examining the relationship between life and waste, this book traces how waste work has been constituted as an infrastructure of urban life, in which waste materials are moved and transformed across Pakistan and beyond, while reproducing life at multiple, intersecting scales.

2 An Order for Urban Life
chapter abstract

Waste materials and work in Lahore became a prominent site of intervention for a colonial regime of sanitation, public health, and governance. Within this regime, the public was an elementary category of the bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus, since it connected spatialized practices surrounding different materialities and relations of work and exchange. As waste infrastructures were being assembled in Lahore during this period, the low- or noncaste group known as the Chūā were recruited as "sweepers" into municipal departments across Punjab and North India, which would appropriate and integrate, at least partially, caste into the techno-legal apparatus of the bureaucratic state. This chapter traces how forms of life built upon caste-based relations have become embedded into infrastructures stretching across the urban landscape, and as waste work has expanded, these forms of life continue to organize spaces, work, and life across Lahore and urban Pakistan.

3 The Appearance of Things
chapter abstract

Since the 1980s, not only has Lahore undergone rapid and uneven urbanization, democratic politics across Pakistan has undergone important changes, where "intermediary classes" and patronage have gained prominence. Concurrently, solid waste has emerged as an object of management, with solid waste management departments being created at the municipal level. It is during this period that waste workers, many of whom have migrated from more agrarian areas of Punjab, have mobilized social and political relationships, both within and outside state institutions, to access waste materials and work. This chapter argues that the bureaucratic state comes to occupy a managerial role in relation to waste infrastructures, which crosscut distinctions such as public and private, state and society, and labor and management. The bureaucratic state and its techno-legal apparatus exercises an important force in organizing infrastructures of disposability, even if those infrastructures are composed of activities, relations, and practices aimed at circulation.

4 Surplus and Its Excess
chapter abstract

The consumption of disposable commodities at a mass scale has resulted in unprecedented levels of waste generation. Waste materials across Pakistan are worked with and exchanged in a variety of spaces (e.g., huts and warehouses), such that these materials can be remade into commodities. As this labor occurs outside more formalized sectors of the economy, these relations and exchange are autonomous from direct control by formal enterprises while still producing value in different forms. These forms of exclusions come with their own kinds of remuneration and indebtedness, and generate surpluses that are simultaneously directed at meeting need by waste workers and small-scale junkyard owners and fostering accumulation by larger scale junkyard owners and intermediaries. This chapter argues that informality undergirds more formalized sectors of capitalist economies, uneven urbanization across much of Pakistan, and the reproduction of historical inequalities and interdependencies.

5 The Unevenness of Intimacy
chapter abstract

Waste work has become a site for mediating collective life in urban Pakistan, in which intimacies across caste, class, and religious lines are constantly negotiated. This chapter situates waste work within distributive processes in Lahore, whereby waste materials are made absent for some, just as they are made present for others. It first examines the affective and material relationships formed between waste workers and households from which they collect waste, and then analyzes the ways in which others, who may share a world in common with waste workers, distance themselves from these materials and those persons presumed to do this work by birth. This chapter argues that the affective, material, and spatial relationships, in which waste workers, junkyard owners, intermediaries, households, and many others are enmeshed, create an uneven intimacy that is reflective of wider distributive process of urbanization.

6 The Possibility of Reproduction
chapter abstract

Waste workers and their kin have experienced shifts in work, settlement, and life as they have migrated to Lahore and reproduced themselves across generations. Low- or noncaste groups in Punjab have historically been landless labor, working under a variety of coercive relations with landowning groups from upper-caste backgrounds, engaging in different kinds of agrarian work, and being settled on the land owned by others. This chapter demonstrates how forms of settlement and work have endured through transformation as waste workers have migrated to Lahore's urbanizing peripheries, while indebtedness has been enfolded into the home as a site of reproduction. Just as reproduction occurs at the intergenerational and domestic scales, it unfolds also at the bodily scale, where lives and bodies have been exhausted through toiling with waste materials. Delineating these spatiotemporal scales highlights how forms of life built upon caste-based relations are reproduced on Pakistan's urbanizing peripheries.

7 Coda
chapter abstract

A theoretical framework of reproduction has important consequences for discussion of caste, waste, and life in the contemporary world. This framework enabled a critical examination of caste in Pakistan, in which caste can be seen as enduring through its transformation and being a site of contestation and struggle. Moreover, it allowed for a study of forms of life that have emerged alongside and out of worlds of waste in the contemporary moment without flattening them to processes that saturate our expectations of contemporary life, specifically an intensifying form of consumptive capitalism and anthropogenic climate change. The reason for doing so, as this book has illustrated, has been to delineate what the actual possibilities are for reproducing life in a world consumed by waste in any numbers of forms.