The End Zones of the Circular Economy: Capitalism and Waste in North Africa – 5in10 with Joshua Rigg

Joshua Rigg holds a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His research interests include socio-political transformations in the Middle East and North Africa, the politics of extractivism, everyday political thinking, and the afterlives of colonial and post-colonial North Africa. He has previously written on everyday understandings of justice in post-overthrow Tunisia, extractivism and marginalization in Tunisia’s south, and the circulation of revolutionary political thinking in the Mediterranean space. His work has been published in Comparative Studies in Society and History, Globalizations and Oxford Middle East Review. His doctoral thesis was awarded runner-up in the 2022 British Society for Middle East Studies Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for best PhD dissertation. In the academic year 2023/24, he is a research fellow at MECAM.

Joshua Rigg

How do you explain your work to someone who may not be an expert in the same field of inquiry and comes from another geographical context?

There are two connected strands to my research: First, I am a scholar of resistance and contentious politics. I have always been fascinated by what is at stake when ordinary citizens turn out onto the streets and squares to express a political demand or grievance. My research has pondered how such ‘contentious’ forms of claim-making relate to what we might understand as the more ‘formal’ sphere of politics proper.

Second, my current project at MECAM looks at conceptions of waste and valorisation in North Africa. Taking a historical lens, I wish to uncover how certain objects that occupy a precarious position between waste and value have been historically discounted and taken to sit outside the economy proper. I am especially interested in how the green transition in North Africa is reshaping historical understandings of waste and its transportation, management and valorisation. Both of my interests – waste and resistance – share a common thread in that they relate to moments that exceed the boundaries of the ‘formal’, whether that be what counts as ‘proper’ politics or economic activity.

What intrigued you when you started your academic journey? What were formative encounters and challenges?

Since the start of my academic journey, and having studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, I have grappled with the role of area studies in the twenty-first-century academy. Should we retain a discipline whose foundations are based in the imperial and neo-imperial aims of Western states? And what is at stake when decolonizing a discipline such as area studies? These are difficult and ongoing questions, but I would nevertheless maintain that our current moment requires specialist, regional knowledge that can help historicize and situate contemporary dynamics.

 How does your work relate to imaginations of future and how does it deal with questions of disparities?

In terms of imagining the future, my research is partly interested in the short-comings and blind spots of the green transition. It interrogates the slippages between the green transition as a future programme and the inevitable messiness when implemented in the world. As James Scott tells us, large-scale schemes often work to obfuscate local particularities in their bid to implement, and make legible state policy. One of the dangers of the green transition is that a sensitivity to social and economic disparities is lost in the pursuit of the ostensibly higher aim of transitioning away from reliance on an oil economy. My research interrogates what a green transition that is sensitive to disparities at a number of scales (between the Global North and South, and the countryside and city) would look like.  

What is the role of humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval? And what may be the task and the public of a scholar?

During dark times scholars have a duty to offer a robust voice and critique misleading narratives and bad thinking when they are disseminated by the dominant media and political classes. That being said, and as we have starkly seen since the start of the War on Gaza, academic institutions can quickly remove the scaffolding that enables public debate and freedom of expression, turning the academy into a tool of censorship. I would urge us not only to think about (and place the onus on) the role of the individual scholar but also academic institutions as spaces that should allow for academic and students to intervene in public debates.

Can you recommend a book, text, film, or exhibition that effectively addresses questions and imaginations of the future while dealing with inequalities in interesting ways?

I recently read Dalenda Larguèche’s Territoire sans frontières : la contrebande et ses réseaux dans la régence de Tunis au XIXe sièclewhich offers a fascinating account of the history of trade in nineteenth-century Tunisia and the dense networks of traders, smugglers and sailors who tied Tunisia into a Mediterranean economic and political space. In terms of films, Erige Sehiri’s beautiful film Under the Fig Tree offers an affecting picture of the gendered, generational and class dynamics that exist in Tunisia’s rural regions, set against the backdrop of the seasonal fig harvest.


Citation: The End Zones of the Circular Economy: Capitalism and Waste in North Africa – 5in10 with Joshua Rigg, in TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 13.02.2024, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/50402



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Forum Transregionale Studien (2024, 13. Februar). The End Zones of the Circular Economy: Capitalism and Waste in North Africa – 5in10 with Joshua Rigg. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 18. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/vtp2

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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