PhD supervisor: Dr Hanna Hoelling
Working title for PhD: "A Place Called Away”: Agbogbloshie, An Art Historical Study.
My research examines the aesthetics of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) disposal. Specifically, I examine lens-based representations of e-waste pollution at Agbogbloshie, a scrap metals market located on the Odaw River in Accra, Ghana, often (falsely) referred to as “the world’s largest digital dumping ground.” In recent years, the ethics and the veracity of images taken at Agbogbloshie has become the subject of dispute by environmental activists, pollution scientists, and artists. On the one hand, artists, photographers, and filmmakers who have visited Agbogbloshie have been criticised for reproducing the violent and racialised effects of e-waste pollution. For example, artists such as Pieter Hugo, Nyaba Leon Ouedrago, and Edward Burtynsky have been accused of constructing pessimistic “imaginaries” of Agbogbloshie that are to blame for the implementation of forced military “clean-ups” of homes and workplaces on site. On the other hand, environmental activists have sought to defend lens-based images of Agbogbloshie an index of the “truth” of waste colonialism in Ghana. The head of the Basel Action Network (BAN), Jim Puckett, has scorned the work of so-called e-waste “denialists” who he claims are undermining the toxicological science through their critique the aesthetics of e-waste.
Seeking a third way between these views, recent ecocritical scholarship has defended images of Agbogbloshie as offering a useful representation of the harmful ecological effects of e-waste pollution, whilst also bearing in mind decolonial critiques which view existing lens-based representations of Agbogbloshie as at best pessimistic and at worst colonialist. My research offers a reading of lens-based representations of Agbogbloshie in the vein of ecocriticism. I understand the existing lens-based representations of Agbogbloshie as an imperfect and sometimes unreliable index of the material reality of e-waste in Ghana. However, I also attempt to recover the strategic value of these images for getting at the colonial historicity of the problem of e-waste. I subject images of Agbogbloshie to a “geological” reading that looks beyond photographic representations of e-waste as a contemporary problem that is specific to the here and now. Instead, I view these images as directing us toward an understanding of e-waste as part of a longer, deeper history of colonial geology and extractivism. I take up the call of Grace Akese to elaborate the “geohistory” of Agbogbloshie, situating the site within a longer history of colonial land relations in Ghana. Simply put, I elaborate the systemic causes of e-waste pollution in favour of attending to its most violent, toxic effects.
- Badcock, Jacob. 2022 – forthcoming. “Ben Asamoah’s Sakawa and the Problem of e-Waste.” Journal of Visual Culture Magazine.
- Badcock, Jacob, and Owusu-Nepaul, Jovan. 2021. “In the Wake of Colston: Wake Work After Woke Work”. Cambridge Journal of Law, Politics, and Art. 1:1. 137-142.
Conference papers and presentations
- Badcock, Jacob. 14-16 July 2022. “Permanent Error: Photography, Colonial Land Relations, and the Problem of e-Waste in Ghana.” The Materials of Modernity. Newnham College, University of Cambridge.
- Badcock, Jacob. 17 November 2021. “The Problem of e-Waste in Ghana.” Past Imperfect: Conversations in Ecological Form. University College London.
- Badcock, Jacob. 1 April 2021. “Sakawa as Decolonial Praxis.” Violence, Aesthetics, Anthropocenes: Colonialism, Racism, Extractivism. London School of Economics.
Senior Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (SPGTA). 2022-23. “Wasting, Systems, Power: Archives, Collecting, Performance.” The Slade School of Fine Art.
- This course will examine the relationship between art and waste. Working in view of recent scholarship in Discard Studies. This course complicates categorical distinctions between art as waste and waste as art. It also addresses the politics of art about waste in the context of the climate crisis.
Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PGTA). 2021-22. “The Invention of African Art.” The Slade School of Fine Art.
- This course introduced students to the relationship between modern and contemporary art and histories of colonial ethnography, collecting, and looting.
- London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) Open Studentship Award