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Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production
Webinar: Recycling Class: The Contradictions of Inclusion in Urban Sustainability
Future Earth

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Webinar: Recycling Class: The Contradictions of Inclusion in Urban Sustainability

Date: April 27, 2023

Time: 6pm CET

Hosted by the Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production Working Group on Social Change Beyond Consumerism.

To view a private video of this talk, please contact Prof Manisha Anantharaman directly at:


In Recycling Class, Manisha Anantharaman examines the ideas, flows, and relationships around unmanaged discards in Bengaluru, India, itself a massive environmental problem of planetary proportions, to push our understanding of what types of coalitions deliver social justice within sustainability initiatives. Recycling Class links middle-class, sustainable consumption with the environmental labor of the working poor to offer a relational analysis of urban sustainability politics and practice. Through ethnographic, community-based research, Anantharaman shows how diverse social groups adopt, contest, and modify neoliberal sustainability’s emphasis on market-based solutions, behavior change, and the aesthetic conflation of “clean” with “green”.

Anantharaman argues that middle class “communal sustainability” efforts create new avenues for waste picker organizations to make claims for infrastructural inclusion. Co-produced “DIY infrastructures” serve as sites of citizenship and political negotiation, challenging the technocratic and growth-based logics of dominant sustainability policies. Yet, these configurations reproduce class, caste, and gender-based divisions of labor. Tracing garbage politics in Bengaluru for over a decade, Anantharaman demonstrates that inclusion without social reform can reproduce unjust distributions of risk and responsibility and reveals the “win-win fallacy” of sustainability. Drawing on feminist geography and urban political ecology, Recycling Class argues that achieving just and ecologically safe cities ultimately requires resisting the seduction of neoliberal logics of growth, efficiency, and entrepreneurism, and rejecting casteism, to reconstruct an urban commons from the detritus of a commoditized society.

Speaker: Manisha Anantharaman

Manisha Anantharaman is an Associate Professor of Justice Community and Leadership at Saint Mary’s College of California and Associate Fellow at Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House’s Environment and Society Program. She is a multi-disciplinary scholar whose research and teaching interests connect sustainability and social justice. She applies participatory and ethnographic methodologies to study how economic and political ideologies, socio-cultural identities, and power relations impact how “environmentalism” and “sustainability” are conceptualized and enacted at multiple scales. As a critical scholar, she pays specific attention to how “environmental” initiatives—be it municipal recycling schemes, green space development, or global circular economy transition plans—reinforce or dismantle different manifestations of race, class, gender, and caste-based oppression. Her publications include a co-edited volume “The Circular Economy and the Global South” (Routledge, UK, 2019), and a forthcoming book “Recycling Class: The contradictions of inclusion in urban sustainability” (MIT Press, 2023). Her research findings have been published in Urban Studies, Journal of Cleaner Production, and the Journal of Consumer Culture. In 2019, she was the Alba Viotto Invited Professor in Sociology at the Institute for Sociological Research, University of Geneva. You can read more about her research and teaching at