This paper, first, seeks to bring a discussion of the ship‐breaking industry of Bangladesh and other “less developed economies” (LDEs) into the academic arena, since almost no mention of it can be found in a journal database search. Second, in engaging with the multiple representations of the industry in a range of other media, from government and NGO documents, television and press reports, to photography and books, it seeks to contribute to discourse which considers the multiple stories of, amongst others, ship owners, environmentalists, journalists, photographers and, not least, those whose lives and work are the subject of others' observation – the ship‐breakers themselves. Third, it seeks to challenge a particular hegemonic “developed world” analysis of what is “good” and “bad” in relation to the industry.
This study is based upon alternative readings of secondary data, drawn from textual, photographic and video sources, in order to offer a range of interpretations.
From these multiple engagements, the paper seeks to show the complexity and ambiguity of the lives of those involved, and that their situation cannot be assessed by application of “developed” world notions of ethics, environmentalism, and “good” and “bad”. From this, it argues in support of ambivalence – as a contextual concern, rather than as apathy – as a necessary approach to analysis.
Attention is drawn to the lack of academic engagement with an industry which is of key economic importance to developing economies like those of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, but is attacked as immoral and dangerous by developed country NGOs. The author considers the framework of (or lack of) international governance which enables its continuance in the face of this opposition.
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