ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Community Capital

Socio-spatial Relations in Delhi’s Seelampur E-waste Market

Seelampur in north-east Delhi is one of the largest e-waste markets in India. Featured in numerous non-governmental organisation reports and journalistic accounts, mainly to highlight the environmental perils of informal e-waste dismantling, the e-waste market’s spatial history and underlying social relations have never been systematically studied. Combining 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2021–22 with a quantitative primary survey of 115 traders in Seelampur, this paper offers new insights on the caste segmentation of commerce in urban India and, specifically, the role of kin networks and “community capital” in consolidating Seelampur’s status as a key node within India’s e-waste economy.

The authors are grateful to Seelampur’s traders for their time, patience, and generosity. Two anonymous reviewers helped to substantially improve our paper’s arguments.

There used to be wooden crushers, and pairs of buffaloes to run it. The crushers would run all day. The entire family worked hard. When we left the oil business, we started selling the metal parts of the crusher.

— Haji Salman Malik, a trader and landlord in Seelampur

Seelampur, a neighbourhood in Shahdara district of Delhi, features regularly in policy reports, academic writings, and popular media for its informal settlements, crowded and narrow streets, communal tensions, poor sanitary conditions, and—most prominently—as a “toxic sink” where electronic waste or e-waste from around the world is dismantled and processed. This paper strives to alter and amend this largely negative representation by showing the underlying social relations and rich spatial history of “place-making” that has produced Seelampur as a key node within India’s e-waste economy. Based on 10 months of ethnographic and survey research, we extend the scholarship on the caste/community segmentation of petty production and commerce in urban India; specifically, the role of “familial capitalism” and kin networks (Yanagisako 2002) in consolidating Seelampur’s distinctive economy trajectory. We introduce the term “community capital” to conceptualise the operations of kin networks in building and sustaining Seelampur’s economy.

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Updated On : 27th Feb, 2023
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