Scrap metal collectors, working on the periphery of society, sustain the ground level operation of a lucrative global market. Bénédicte Florin and Pascal Garret’s immersive ethnographic study reveals the exploitation and illegitimacy yet resourcefulness of Roma and other marginalized workers in Paris, whose plight has worsened since COVID-19.
14 July 2020
‘I work collecting scrap metal from seven in the morning till eleven at night, nearly every day. I’ve got a list of all the dump sites in all the districts, and there’s always somebody on shift. You find stuff, even if it sometimes doesn’t make very much [. . .]. When you come back here, there’s a little space set aside for sorting and breaking it up, and this leads to problems with the neighbours. When you find a machine that works, that’s best because you can sell it on. Otherwise, you sell it to the scrap metal dealer [. . .]. There’s a lot of competition among the junk collectors; if you’re out collecting every day you can see everybody out there working their shift, all the time.’
Simon, a Romanian migrant who moved to Paris in 2009, was interviewed for a 2015-2019 National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, ANR) marginalization/inclusion study. His experience clearly shows that the collection, reconditioning and resale of recyclable materials and recovered junk are far from marginal activities. However, scrap metal collectors work in marginal urban spaces – shanty towns, empty or abandoned lots, squats and some rehousing sites – are themselves considered marginal by society and the authorities; collectors are commonly either undocumented migrants, Roma with unclear civic status (often confused with travellers) or economically disadvantaged French citizens.
Collecting scrap metal is evidently part of an economy of poverty that demands specific analysis…
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