Fellow in the project „Epochal Life Worlds: Man, Nature and Technology in Narratives of Crisis and Change“ (November - December 2023)
Chang Liu (刘倡), originally from Manchuria, formerly served as the musical affairs officer at the French Embassy in China, and now is completing his PhD thesis at Heidelberg University, focusing on the making and unmaking of American pop icon Madonna’s star image in post-Mao China.
ProjectDocumenting the Afterlives of American Musical Waste in China
By the end of the 20th century, the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing technology made music freely available online in the format of MP3, which subsequently turned huge number of cassettes and CDs into obsolete. North American record labels treated those unsalable albums as commercial waste, and in collaboration with waste management companies they scrapped those albums and exported them to countries like China as plastic waste for recycling. However, instead of being recycled, these scrapped cassettes and CDs were resold in the gray economy of China’s music market. In this project I will excavate the afterlives of American musical waste in China through the lens of transcultural studies and political ecology and demonstrate the importance of the ecological dimension of the recording industry in the context of globalization. I will argue that American musical waste as one type of transnational garbage, despite its negative connotations in environmental justice discourse, can also be used as a tool by the under privileged Chinese to achieve empowerment. This urges the necessity of bringing multiple perspectives into the study of waste and considers the limit of global environmental justice discourse which frequently runs the risk of denying agency to the underprivileged groups and forging new stereotypes.