Tridibesh Dey

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College: College of Social Sciences and International Studies
Discipline: Sociology and Philosophy
Department: Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology

Becoming plastic: Back in the 80s, my father sold nylon ropes and other plastic objects of daily use in the streets of Kolkata. He was able to support his newly immigrated family from Bangladesh, eventually paid for his own higher education in India, and when I was born under relatively comfortable circumstances, my parents sent me to an 'English-medium' school. I am now pursuing a PhD in Anthropology, researching the social and material politics of plastic.

I trained originally in math and the engineering of complex systems - thanks to generous scholarships (Ecole polytechnique, Paris). But I gave up a promising career in sustainable development to move back to academia again. The turning point would be a plastic recycling project in rural India, which drove home the fact that engineering 'solutions' are not foolproof. That they need to seriously open up to alternative modes of object-making, knowledge and expertise, and be more just and fair in their fruition. Yet, the latter point also taught me that not everything that is 'local' and communal has to be ideal and therefore, must not be uncritically imbibed. I started a small think-tank during this period following the 'failed' engineering project, and this was together with students of design, art, engineering and environmental sociology. We would think collectively on the problems of plastic waste, especially in areas w/o robust modern recycling infrastructure, and draw up small-scale models for livelihood generation and local activism.

The experience eventually pushed me to reflect more on the sociological dimensions of plastic re-use and recycling, and with a small personal savings, I took a blind leap to studying ethnographic methods and anthropology (MRes in Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris).

My current studentship is funded by the University of Exeter's International Excellence Scholarship, and I am supervised by two wonderful human beings - Profs. Mike Michael and Harry West. I continue to take regular notes from my father, my mother (who is some sort of an expert in plastic repurposing), and my informant-turned-friends, and collaborators in India - from rag-pickers to recyclers to researchers and grassroot organisers.