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With digitalculturebooks, the University of Michigan Press publishes innovative work in new media studies and digital humanities. We began in 2006 as a partnership between MLibrary and the Press, taking advantage of the skills and expertise of staff throughout Michigan Publishing. Our primary goal is to be an incubator for new publishing models in the humanities and social sciences.

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Digital Rubbish

A Natural History of Electronics
Jennifer Gabrys
Exploring the materiality of digital devices through electronic waste


This is a study of the material life of information and its devices; of electronic waste in its physical and electronic incarnations; a cultural and material mapping of the spaces where electronics in the form of both hardware and information accumulate, break down, or are stowed away. Electronic waste occurs not just in the form of discarded computers but also as a scatter of information devices, software, and systems that are rendered obsolete and fail. Where other studies have addressed "digital" technology through a focus on its immateriality or virtual qualities, Gabrys traces the material, spatial, cultural, and political infrastructures that enable the emergence and dissolution of these technologies. In the course of her book, she explores five interrelated "spaces" where electronics fall apart: from Silicon Valley to Nasdaq, from containers bound for China to museums and archives that preserve obsolete electronics as cultural artifacts, to the landfill as material repository. All together, these sites stack up into a sedimentary record that forms the "natural history" of this study.

Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics describes the materiality of electronics from a unique perspective, examining the multiple forms of waste that electronics create as evidence of the resources, labor, and imaginaries that are bundled into these machines. By drawing on the material analysis developed by Walter Benjamin, this natural history method allows for an inquiry into electronics that focuses neither on technological progression nor on great inventors but rather considers the ways in which electronic technologies fail and decay. Ranging across studies of media and technology, as well as environments, geography, and design, Jennifer Gabrys pulls together the far-reaching material and cultural processes that enable the making and breaking of these technologies.

". . . a lovely and insightful analysis. At times it is even poetic."
—Josh Lepawsky, Cultural Geographies

Jacket image: Computer dump ©iStockphoto/Lya_Cattel.

Jennifer Gabrys is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Praise / Awards

  • "Jennifer Gabrys' Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics is one of those books that you wish you had written – in my case, because of the elegance which with it ties together the ecological residue of electronic media culture, regimes of memory extending outside the human (and hence rethinking what the archive is), and for its (new) materialist way of materializing that what we hallucinated for a while as immaterial (new media)."
    —Jussi Parikka, Semiotic Review of Books

  • "...a lovely and insightful analysis. At times it is even poetic."
    —Josh Lepawsky, Cultural Geographies

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: UMP Author Podcast Series: Jennifer Gabrys | MP3 | 7/1/2011

Read: Q&A with Jennifer Gabrys | PDF | 6/6/2011 

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 242pp.
  • 25 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11761-1

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  • $44.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03537-3

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90029-9

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  • Electronic waste, Materiality, Media ecologies, Networks and sustainability, Digital obsolescence, Waste sites, Cultural geography , Sustainable computing and design, Sustainable HCI, Digital humanities, Environmental studies