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HomeNew Spaces of Collection: Crossing Perspectives on Today ‘Gatherers’

New Spaces of Collection: Crossing Perspectives on Today ‘Gatherers’

Nouvelles géographies de la collecte. Perspectives croisées sur les « cueilleurs » contemporains

“EchoGéo” journal n°47 - January-March 2019

Revue « EchoGéo » n°47 - Janvier-Mars 2019

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Published on Tuesday, January 30, 2018


The purpose of this issue of EchoGéo is to initiate an innovative approach toward contemporary practices of collection and their socio-spatial effects. The term ‘collection’ covers a wide panel of processes used for the gathering of valuable materials picked up from localised environments and feeding supra-local trading and production channels. The proposal is to compare two kinds of collection spaces and practices, which seem to be opposed, namely those of medicinal plants’ gatherers and those of urban waste pickers multi-scaled. Through such analogy, whose today’s dynamics are bringing new heuristic interest, the objective is to consider conceptual issues such as marginality, informality, multi-scaled organisation of economic channels, access to resources and value regimes



The purpose of this special issue of EchoGéo is to initiate an innovative approach toward contemporary practices of collection and their socio-spatial effects. The term ‘collection’ – from the Latin word colligere (to collect, pick up, gather) – is deliberately used as it covers a wide panel of processes used for the gathering of valuable materials picked up from localised environments and feeding supra-local trading and production channels..

This multidisciplinary issue aims to bring together researchers from different backgrounds in order to develop new epistemological approaches and innovative perspectives on collection activities. In order to do so, we wish to compare two kinds of collection spaces and practices, which seem to be opposed, namely those of medicinal plants’ gatherers and those of urban waste pickers. The analogy is not a new one (Anthropologist Larissa Adler Lomnitz described Mexico waste pickers as “hunter-gatherers in the urban jungle” in 1975), but today’s dynamics are bringing new heuristic interest to this issue. From the location of the resources to the place of consumption, collected goods – be they waste or plants – feed marketing networks and structure multi-scale production channels.

Recent papers bring elements of convergence between the two types of collection.  

On one side, research works on waste gathering and recycling are flourishing (Jeanjean, 2016; Florin et Cirelli, 2015), going beyond the cliché of miserable waste pickers and rather focusing on waste recovery mechanisms, power relationships within the traditional channels and issues regarding attempts of supervising these informal activities (Bercegol et al., 2017). They mainly concern Southern countries. Considered as an economic good, waste give rise to rivalries regarding resource appropriation (Cavé, 2013; Schindler et al., 2012). In cities characterised by huge socio-economic inequalities, the collection economy and the protoindustries transforming collected goods provide many jobs (Florin, 2015). Many research works argue for a better regulation of this informal economy, so as to implement social and environmental standards progressively. These would be particularly useful for waste pickers at the bottom of the social scale, considering that recycling channels are rarely controlled (Le Meur, 2016).

On the other side, less numerous works deal with the commercial collection of plants, sometimes high-valued ones. They mainly focus on the transformation of collection practices because of high demand, on the quality variations of herbal raw materials (Springer, 2015; Blaikie, 2014), on the setting up of trans-border networks, often difficult to control (Saxer, 2013) or on changing perceptions of the collected goods along the channel (Mercan, 2012).

Other works consider that, while it is integrated into economic flows, the informally collected plant is a symbol of resistance in an insecure world and an evidence of the possibility of survival to Progress (Sting, 2017 [2015]).

Main themes

Through the study of these collection practices and of their insertion into economic networks, we wish to consider the following conceptual issues:

  • Marginality, informality and precariousness, echoing to current academic works on spaces of ‘margins’ (Milhaud, 2017; Andres, 2010) and on informal economy (Balan, 2014)

Although they are at the very beginning of the supply for globalised industries, such as herbal cosmetics or recycled goods for domestic consumption, the primary collection activities remain unseen. Plant collectors and waste pickers are generally poor, marginalised social communities, hardly recognised by governments. Often left in informality, most of them do not get any benefit from the capitalist chain of transformation and marketing of collected goods; they suffer from attempts of formalisation of their activities and are sometimes subject to rejection from the system. But in order to claim control of their own activities and the right to existence, throughout the world, collectors’ organisations are being set up to contest relegation to informality and to demand a formalisation of socioeconomic rights, which would benefit them. In parallel, some groups claim for their marginality, as collection activities entrench them in an alternative and engaged modernity.

  • Structuring of multi-scaled economic channels

These collectors supply raw material to industrial groups. Far from being ‘primitive’, the picking activity contributes to vibrant economies. It is at the bottom of production chains, guided by complex relational networks and integrated into multi-scaled flows. The study of these channels’ organisation and of relationships between stakeholders brings light on adaptation processes of these collectors and on their modalities of insertion into global economy. The economic approach toward these marketing and value chains shows a priori a disconnection between upstream and downstream parts of the chains in terms of production of value. However, collection entrepreneurs are emerging within these marginalised groups and manage to get some profit from this chain, becoming legitimate intermediaries. Finally, these activities mix survival and mercantile economies; it is therefore useful to analyse the part of collection made for domestic use and its role in the sustaining of these practices.

  • Access to resources and collection areas, defining their values

The purpose of this special issue is to look into the changing nature of collected resources throughout the valuing and transformation process. Based on political economy and political ecology academic debates, a critical analysis reveals conflicting rationalities, which arise from the definition of rights over resources, in the competitive collection process and in the redistribution of the added value, in particular in a context of a weak state regulation. In this perspective, proposals to assess new practices of urban collection or gleaning are welcome here. These practices may concern populations in a precarious situation or urban elites involved in environment protection and back-to-nature movements (plant collection promotion organisations, ‘no waste’ movement). These practices redefine the relation to resources and build new ways to occupy urban areas and their interstices (Tareau et al., 2018), contributing to the proposed reflexion on new collection geographies. Finally this issue aims to rethink the metabolic contribution of the picking economy, in a context of environmental crisis (Monsaingeon, 2017) and social transformation, and to reconsider the role and status of the gatherer today.

This issue welcomes more theoretical papers on the definition of collection, on the identity of gatherers, the role of survival economies in the development of societies, the capacity of resilience – within the margins – of societies and environments to the crises of development models, etc. In this perspective, papers can deal with only one side of this comparison, or propose a comparative approach. The variety of collection practices is not restricted: papers can deal with the picking-up of other resources (mining, fishing, etc.), favour historical perspectives on the condition of waste pickers in cities or consider the use of recycled materials in the art market or handicraft, etc.


  • Andres L., 2010. Reconquête culturo-économique des territoires délaissés : de l’importance du temps de veille et de ses acteurs transitoires. Méditerranées, n°114.
  • Balan H., 2014. L’institutionnalisation des marchés informels à Paris : une situation d’entredeux dans le gouvernement des espaces publics. Carnets de géographes, n°7.
  • Blaikie C., 2014. Making medicine: Pharmacy, exchange and the production of Sowa Rigpa in Ladakh. Thèse de doctorat en anthropologie, Université de Kent.
  • de Bercegol R., Cavé J., Nguyen Thai Huyen A., 2017. Waste Municipal Service and Informal Recycling Sector in Fast-Growing Asian Cities: Co-Existence, Opposition or Integration? Resources 6, n°4, 70.
  • Cavé, J. 2014. Who owns urban waste? Appropriation conflicts in emerging countries. Waste Manag. Res., 32, p. 813-821.
  • Florin B., 2015. Les chiffonniers du Caire. Soutiers de la ville ou businessmen des ordures ? Ethnologie française, 3, n°153.
  • Florin B. (dir.), Cirelli C. (dir.), 2015. Sociétés Urbaines et déchets. PUFR, 452 p.
  • Jeanjean A., 2016. Peindre la voix, écrire le déchet. Techniques & Culture « Réparer le monde : excès, reste et innovation », 65-66, p. 310-321.
  • Le Meur M., 2016. Sous la montagne de plastique, une mine d’or ? Le mythe du recyclage à l’épreuve d’une filière vietnamienne. Techniques & Culture « Réparer le monde : excès, reste et innovation », 65-66, p. 202-205.
  • Lomnitz L.A., 1975. Cómo sobreviven los marginados. Mexico, Siglo XXI. 
  • Mercan A., 2012. La route du cordyceps. Autrepart, Vol. 4, n° 63.
  • Milhaud O., 2017, La France des marges. Documentation photographique, n° 8116.
  • Monsaingeon B., 2017. Homo detritus. Critique de la société du déchet. Paris, Seuil (Coll. Anthropocène).
  • Saxer M., 2013. Manufacturing Tibetan Medicine. The Creation of an Industry and the Moral Economy of Tibetanness. New York, Berghahn.
  • Schindler S., Demaria F., Pandit S. B., 2012. Delhi's waste conflict. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(42), p. 18-21.
  • Springer L., 2015. Collectors, Producers, and Circulators of Tibetan and Chinese Medicines in Sichuan Province. Asian Medicine, n° 10 (1-2).
  • Sting A. Lowenhaupt, 2017. Le champignon de la fin du monde. Sur la possibilité de vivre dans les ruines du capitalisme. Paris, La Découverte (Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond), [Traduction de l’ouvrage publié en 2015 The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins].
  • Tareau M.A., Fozzani J., Odonne G., Palisse M., 2017. Pratiques de cueillette urbaine des plantes médicinales dans l’île de Cayenne. In Rogers, D., Terral, R., Lesueur, B., Guibert, J-S (Eds.) (à paraître). Habiter la ville ou la fabrique de la cité, Vol. 2. Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Conditions of submission

Authors are kindly requested to inform coordinators of their will to take part in this issue before sending their paper, by sending an email to lucie.dejouhanet@gmail.com or to remi.debercegol@cnrs.fr. This information will ease the organisation of the editing process; however, it does not guarantee the final acceptance of the proposed paper. 

The papers are expected

by June 1st, 2018

to Lucie Dejouhanet and Rémi de Bercegol, copying in Karine Delaunay (karine.delaunay@ird.fr), Editorial Secretary, who will forward the papers to the reviewers. They should be in the region of 30,000 characters (not including illustrations) and can be published in French or in English; however, the editors of this issue wish to publish a bilingual version, and as far as possible, authors will be requested to produce a translation of their accepted paper. 

The on-line release of this special issue is planned for March 2019 in EchoGéo, 47.

Co-ordination of the special issue

  • Lucie Dejouhanet who is Lecturer at University of Antilles and member of AIHP-GEODE laboratory, EA 929 and
  • Rémi de Bercegol who is Research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and member of research unit Prodig. 


  • Friday, June 01, 2018

Attached files


  • collecte, valorisation, filière multiscalaire, marginalité, accès aux ressources, régime de valeur


  • Lucie Dejouhanet
    courriel : lucie [dot] dejouhanet [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Rémi de Bercegol
    courriel : remi [dot] debercegol [at] cnrs [dot] fr

Information source

  • Karine Delaunay
    courriel : EchoGeo [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« New Spaces of Collection: Crossing Perspectives on Today ‘Gatherers’ », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, January 30, 2018, https://doi.org/10.58079/zfb

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