Garbage Citizenship

Vital Infrastructures of Labor in Dakar, Senegal

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 22 illustrations Published: September 2018

African Studies, Geography, Sociology > Urban Studies

Over the last twenty-five years, garbage infrastructure in Dakar, Senegal, has taken center stage in the struggles over government, the value of labor, and the dignity of the working poor. Through strikes and public dumping, Dakar's streets have been periodically inundated with household garbage as the city's trash collectors and ordinary residents protest urban austerity. Often drawing on discourses of Islamic piety, garbage activists have provided a powerful language to critique a neoliberal mode of governing-through-disposability and assert rights to fair labor. In Garbage Citizenship Rosalind Fredericks traces Dakar's volatile trash politics to recalibrate how we understand urban infrastructure by emphasizing its material, social, and affective elements. She shows how labor is a key component of infrastructural systems and how Dakar's residents use infrastructures as a vital tool for forging collective identities and mobilizing political action. Fleshing out the materiality of trash and degraded labor, Fredericks illuminates the myriad ways waste can be a potent tool of urban control and rebellion.


"Garbage Citizenship isn’t solely about urban rubbish collection in Senegal’s capital. The book uses waste collector strikes and activism to explore broader effects of labour relations, citizen advocacy, neoliberal reform, and religious understandings of purity and pollution." — Christine Ro, Environment and Urbanization

"A powerful account of the centrality of infrastructure, waste and labor for writing larger stories of urban transformation and citizenship in Dakar and beyond." — Colin McFarlane, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Garbage Citizenship powerfully details. . . how the responsibility for waste has disproportionately fallen on the urban poor." — Jacob Doherty, American Anthropologist

"An engaging study of garbage infrastructure in Senegal’s capital that foregrounds both the human labor it takes to keep the city clean and the ways that failures to do so become goads to political action." — Dagna Rams, American Ethnologist

"Garbage Citizenship is a significant contribution and necessary reading for scholars of infrastructural governance and politics, labor geographies, African urban studies, and discard studies." — Kathleen Stokes, Canadian Journal of African Studies

“Fredericks’s book makes a compelling argument for the recognition of human labor as a key ingredient of urban infrastructure, with its social, cultural, historical, religious, and political embeddedness, in Dakar and elsewhere in the Global South, but more and more also in the Global North. Through it we can think about the ambiguity of public discourses on religious piety, or of the often-misleading representations of community participatory efforts, in addition to the way urban infrastructures are sites of power struggles and social resistance, both materially and symbolically.”

— Ricardo Falcão, African Studies Review

"As a nuanced and longitudinal case study of how the monumental task of waste management assembles profoundly heterogenous entities, Fredericks’ work is a generative addition to the anthropology of infrastructure." — Christine Hegel, Anthropology of Work Review

“Fredericks presents a dazzling excavation of the many strata of garbage politics. … Fredericks’s book gives us new tools for understanding how that power works.” — Chris Tilly, American Journal of Sociology

“Fredericks goes beyond the conventional view of waste infrastructure as capital equipment by drawing from labor studies. She expands the literature on urban citizenship by conceptualizing Dakar’s working poor as waste infrastructure whose social responsibility, political actions, and religious ideology shaped state-society relations…. [S]he provides additional lens with which to study material politics in African cities.” — Adebisi Alade, African Studies Quarterly

“The book offers a crucial example of innovative reworking of urban governance from the South. In an age of widespread public sector cutbacks across African (and indeed global) cities, and growing labour casualization in the global North…Garbage Citizenship offers an affirmative story of labour bargaining.” — Tatiana A. Thieme, Development and Change

Garbage Citizenship presents an in-depth analysis of the ways that garbage, and waste infrastructures, played a central role in the politics of urban change in Dakar. This text presents a thoughtful and rigorous analysis of infrastructures as a complex artefact of urban life, adding to the growing field of infrastructure studies…” — Jenny McArthur, Urban Studies

“Rosalind Fredericks’ book is an important intervention at the crossroads of (urban) political ecology, discard studies, and labor studies. It contributes to a growing body of research into the triad of urban neoliberalism, the precarization of public work, and the rhetoric of 'community.' Its key originality lies in its insistence on the role of labor, and laboring bodies, in holding urban infrastructures together.” — Marion Ernwein, Work and Occupations

"Garbage Citizenship introduce[s] the possibility of understanding political practices based on the material elements that make up the city—a huge and novel contribution…. [It] will be essential reading for those interested in urban politics and everyday life in the Global South for many years to come, just as the contentious politics of urban space will shape the contours of Africa well into the future.” — Jeffrey W. Paller, Peace Review

Garbage Citizenship is an important addition to the growing literature on global south urban infrastructures…. Fredericks has given us important ways to begin thinking more deeply about the relationships between people, bodies, lives, livelihoods, formal politics, cultural practices and the ways these entangle in messy assemblages.” — Mary Lawhon, Social & Cultural Geography

“Fredericks set out to bring subtlety and complexity to the study of neoliberalism. She has certainly succeeded…. Fredericks conducted valiant research in circumstances that are difficult, not only because they are smelly and potentially unhealthy but also because the politics of trash collection are complex and murky, as she amply demonstrates and expresses.”
  — Diana Wylie, H-Africa, H-Net Reviews

“In the Global South, informal labor and social networks increasingly replace the crumbling materiality of public works. Garbage Citizenship, by Rosalind Fredericks, examines the interaction between the human and technical elements of such peopled infrastructures through the chronic garbage crisis in Dakar, Senegal....” — Daivi Rodima-Taylor, American Anthropologist

Garbage Citizenship is a major intervention that proposes new ways of thinking about religion, labor, community, and citizenship at the intersections of public health and the political economy of garbage collection disposal, infrastructures, and workforce. It’s an engaging and perceptive ethnography of material desires and ethical contradictions examined through the stories of the various actors involved in the municipal and state politics in the era of neoliberal reform.” — Mamadou Diouf, Columbia University

“Offering a thorough and highly original reading of urban politics in Dakar, Senegal, Rosalind Fredericks captures the cultural and political charge of waste, revealing how it comes to be a potent symbol of public life. She moves beyond the increasingly commonplace characterization of ‘people as infrastructure’ to identify how garbage emerges as a key field in which struggles over the terms of urban order and disorder, freedom and constraint, self-determination and state oversight, private and public life, moral value and moral disregard, all play out. An impressive and insightful work.” — Brenda Chalfin, author of Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rosalind Fredericks is Associate Professor of Geography and Development Studies at New York University and coeditor of The Arts of Citizenship in African Cities: Infrastructures and Spaces of Belonging and Les arts de la citoyenneté au Sénégal: Espaces contestés et civilités urbaines.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Trash Matters  1
1. Governing Disposability  27
2. Vital Infrastructures of Labor 60
3. Technologies of Community  97
4. The Piety of Refusal  123
Conclusion. Garbage Citizenship  149
Notes  155
References  171
Index  193
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, Toyan Falola AGSS Africa Book Award, presented by the Association of Global South Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top