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Relational power in the governance of a South African e-waste transition


  • Mary Lawhon


Transition studies attempts to explain sociotechnical change over time and to develop policy prescriptions to help guide transitions towards more sustainable outcomes. While this literature has made significant contributions to our understanding of transitions and achieving greater sustainability, most transition theory and practice overlooks the central role of power in shaping the direction and outcomes of transitions. In this paper I apply the transitions framework to electronic waste (e-waste) management in South Africa, and assess the attempts to instigate and guide a transition through the establishment of an industry-led e-waste association. I use a relational – political – ecological approach in which I show how power is built relationally through particular engagements between members of the e-waste association and with others outside the association. I describe the attempts by the association to extend power and the strategies employed by members to resist or reconstruct this relationship. While stakeholders’ concerns with the e-waste association are various, I focus on articulating their responses, specifically actions which revise their particular way of relating to the association. I group these into three main responses: (i) establishing a new connection or disengaging from the network; (ii) frustrated participation and/or reformed expectations; and (iii) establishing an alternative network. My analysis of relational power in the process of attempting to guide a transition is intended to show a new way of incorporating conceptualizations of power into transition studies to increase its theoretical rigour and enhance its potential to make positive contributions towards achieving a just sustainability. Keywords: e-waste, South Africa, governance, power, relational networks

Suggested Citation

  • Mary Lawhon, 2012. "Relational power in the governance of a South African e-waste transition," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(4), pages 954-971, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:4:p:954-971

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