Energy and Extraction

Generating anxiety, short-circuiting desire: Battery waste and the capitalist phantasy

While batteries are ubiquitous in modern life, they often go unnoticed; that is, until they stop working. Each time a battery dies and becomes waste, our modernist expectations of convenient, reliable energy sources, and our unexamined dependence on these volatile combinations of heavy metals, plastics, and chemical pastes is exposed. In this paper, we document and visualize battery waste flows across North America to reveal the anxiety-ridden processes through which we manage, mismanage, and attempt to forget about battery waste. Drawing on Lacan’s seminar on Anxiety, this paper contributes to understandings of the role of psycho-social objects in constituting both material landscapes of risk and the symbolic structures of capitalist modernity that repress these risks in the interest of continued economic growth. We examine the “total management narrative” around battery waste as a Lacanian phantasy preserved through dysfunctional responses to underlying anxieties about the continued production, circulation, and distribution of toxins necessary to the maintenance of modern life. In challenging these total management narratives, we argue that processes of denial, disavowal, and foreclosure only partially mask the myriad ways that battery waste escapes, exceeds, or endures our practices of disposal and recycling, producing problematic and often environmentally unjust outcomes.

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Volume 36 Issue 6

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