Consuming Justice: Exploring Tensions Between Environmental Justice and Technology Consumption Through Media Coverage of Electronic Waste, 2002-2013
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The social and environmental impacts of consumer electronics and information communications technologies (CE/ICTs) reflect dynamics of a globalized and interdependent world. During the early 21st century the global consumption of CE/ICTs expanded greatly while the infrastructure behind CE/ICTs, especially the extraction and disassembly phases, became more integrated. This dissertation examines how messages about the social and environmental impacts of CE/ICTs changed during this period and explores the discursive power of actors involved in environmental justice campaigns surrounding the disposal and disassembly of electronic waste (e-waste). The dissertation reports the results of a mixed methods investigation of twelve years of media coverage of e-waste through quantitative content analysis and qualitative document analysis. The analysis examined almost 800 articles from eleven media outlets between 2002 – 2013 and explored differences between legacy media coverage (e.g. The New York Times, USA Today) and coverage from digital news outlets focused on technology (e.g. Ars Technica, CNET, Gizmodo). When the story of e-waste began to gain traction in media outlets, the haze of commodity fetishism cleared for a brief moment and the social relations of exploitation behind the wonders of technology were included in media narratives. While the media coverage about e-waste initially examined environmental justice issues of pollution and labor exploitation, the coverage evolved into focusing on the technical and business solutions to managing the environmental problems and the growth of a private sector profiting from mineral reclamation through electronics recycling.