The myth of environmentalism: authoritarianism and the moral universe of waste in post-revolutionary Tunisia
Paper short abstract:
This paper argues that piles of uncollected garbage and streams of sewage have become visceral reminders of the corruption of the Ben Ali regime. Waste symbolizes unfulfilled post-revolutionary aspirations in Tunisia and alters the moral geography of a country with stark regional inequalities.
Paper long abstract:
Waste creates and reaffirms moral geographies and socio-spatial hierarchies. However, little attention has been paid to how the obtrusive physical presence and the associated moral stigma of waste interact with authoritarian environmental ideologies of cleanliness. This paper argues that piles of uncollected garbage, streams of sewage and industrial pollution have become a daily visceral reminder of the corruption of the Ben Ali regime. Waste symbolizes unfulfilled post-revolutionary aspirations in Tunisia and alters the moral geography of a country with stark regional inequalities. The information presented here is based on archival research, interviews and participant observation with Tunisian's affected by the waste crisis and those trying to address it, like NGO workers, activists and government officials. This anthropological study suggests that Ben Ali's rule depended on the myths of the economic miracle, democratization, secularization and environmentalism, which were maintained through the tight control of information and the oppression of activists. These myths were predicated on a socio-spatial inequality, harmony or dissonance with the myths depended on social, spatial and economic positioning. Like poverty, waste and pollution are strong physical markers of that inequality, they signify corruption in both Islamic and Western moral registers. This stigma has the power to infect individuals and regions. "Dirty areas", a common Tunisian euphemism for poor areas with high crime rates and a lack of infrastructure in effect overflow with waste and are different sensuous and moral geographies. After the revolution, waste spilled into formerly "clean areas", threatening to morally corrupt them and bursting governmental myths.
Moral horizons of land and place