‘Upcycling’ as semiotic practice

Anders Björkvall, Department of Swedish language and multilingualism at Stockholm University


Wasted metal bottle tops in Africa can be re-designed, exported and sold as quite expensive earrings in Scandinavia. This is sometimes referred to as ‘upcycling’ and at the seminar I will discuss ‘upcycling’ of rubbish and other wasted materials as semiotic practice. Re-use, or recycling, of materials is nothing new. However, the social meanings connected to such practices are constantly changing which is reflected in more recent names and labels such as ‘upcycling’ and ‘trashion’. I will explore ‘upcycling’ as global value adding by analysing recontextualisation and provenance of semiotic resources in ‘upcycled’ artefacts. The data consist of a corpus of approximately 50 ‘upcycled’ artefacts that either have moved or have the potential to move between Africa and Europe, primarily toys, jewellery, ornaments, and interior design or household items. They were collected from street retailers and shops in Cape Town and in Stockholm as part of a research collaboration between me and Arlene Archer at the University of Cape Town.