Electronic waste (e-waste) has become a point of interest for social and technical scientists, activists, and policy-makers. In South Africa, researchers, consultants and industry have worked together to develop plans for modernizing the e-waste industry while, at the same time, a group of activists connected to the global environmental justice movement is concerned with the illegal import of e-waste into South Africa. In this paper, I show how the discourses of ecological modernisation and environmental justice have been mobilized by these two different groups. The discourses have contrasting evaluations of the role of technology, relationship with the state, and the role of political economy which shape interactions between the discourses and discourse coalitions. Despite these differences, productive engagements exist. I suggest that understanding these differences can improve this engagement and contribute to more successful e-waste policy and management in the South African context and more widely.
Keywords: e-waste, South Africa, discourse, environmental justice, ecological modernisation