L2


Situated agency in environmental sustainability 
Convenors:
Ingmar Lippert (IT University of Copenhagen)
Brit Winthereik (IT University of Copenhagen)
Send message to Convenors
Theme:
Sustainability in transition
Format:
Location:
C. Humanisticum AB 3.10
Sessions:
Wednesday 17 September, 10:30-12:15, 14:00-15:45, 16:00-17:45, Thursday 18 September, 9:30-11:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Environments as practice: solidarity with practitioners?

Long Abstract

In STS, environmental themes have often been attended to through environmental science and policy. Any practice and process of environmental science, technology and policy also involves humans. This track invites paying attention to those agents who are enrolled in discourses and apparatuses that claim working towards "sustainability", "ecological modernisation", the "low carbon economy" and the like.

We call for submissions that address how such agents do, redo and undo environments, how they enact and reconfigure environments as infrastructures. Particularly we are interested in a reflexive engagement with how we as STS researchers relate to these agents: In what ways does our research take part in reconfiguring agents' environmental infrastructure work? Which solidarities are we bringing into the field? And how can we relate to green agents' hopes and despairs, their (dis)investments into dominant discourses of greening?

Empirically, we are interested in the relations between STS researchers and green agents and their&your relations to the tools and devices employed by agents to work towards the imagined greening. Which solidarities are prefigured and excluded in the particular configurations performed by and with agents to 'manage' or 'govern' environments?

This track invites scholars to attend to green agents' practices and possibilities - beyond dominant discourses of greening - for engaging with environmental practitioners. In short, if we study environments as practice, as done, redone and undone, how do we relate to the doers?

The papers will be presented in the order shown and grouped 4-4-3-2 between sessions

Accepted papers:

Author:

Ingmar Lippert (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a transnational Fortune 50 company headquarters' environmental management team, this paper reflexively opens up a range of situations that took part in enacting the company's carbon footprint. Common to all these situations is that the environmental realities enacted have been categorised by some members as erroneous or as not good enough. These enactments of erroneous realities, the paper proposes, can be generatively analysed by drawing on the partially different, partially complementary sensibilities offered by Annemarie Mol's and Helen Verran's work. Using ethnographic vignettes, I reconstruct the practices that bring some form of reality into being. When enactments of realities are considered erroneous by members we can a) enter into a critical analysis of these authors' notions of ontological and ontic and their entanglement with epistemic work practices, b) inquiring into the micro-politics of (non)solidarities that members and the researcher have to particular realities, and to the workplace's actor-networks in which they are enacted.

Author:

Sebastian Ureta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado)

Paper long abstract:

Sustainability discourses have become almost compulsory among corporate actors nowadays, especially as they operate on an increasingly global scale. STS-based case studies have importantly contributed to understand the complexity of such discourses, showing how they produce always precarious effects that depend on the coordination of multiple agencies and whose materialization is never strange to overflowings. While doing this analyses, the researches involved have usually been less preoccupied with the issue of reflexivity or the differences that their presence on the field makes in the object under study. More in particular, they haven't really explored the differences that an STS-based conceptual framework as such makes on the sustainability discourses of the actors being studied. In order to contribute to fill this void, and making an autoethnography, this paper analyses three presentations made by the author to actors from the sustainability area of a mayor Chilean Mining Corporation. Being a part of the process of getting access to do fieldwork on their mine, the presentations were mostly focused on explaining and discussing what is STS and how an STS-based analysis can help them to improve the measures they were implementing to make more sustainable the mine's waste management system. The final aim of such exercise is to explore the political ontology of emerging sustainability/STS assemblages, especially in relation with taking into account the differences that we and our conceptual devices made with our presence on the field.

Author:

Maria Eidenskog (Department of Thematic Studies )

Paper long abstract:

Companies worldwide claim to care for nature and the need to care for the environment has never been more acknowledged. The tension between the economy-controlled corporation and the warm fuzzy concept care may leave bystanders suspicious. Care is a powerful word that often is connected to normative ethics or affective states. However, by considering care as a practice and by thinking with care we can find new ways to relate to research and to our research fields. In my research I study the enactments of care as practice in a medium sized company. Through observations and interviews with employees I explore how sustainability is enacted in (caring) practices. I study when and why environmental issues are made into a matter of care and when sustainability is made invisible. I aim to think from within this community I have come to care for by discussing what Puig de Bellacasa (2012) calls dissenting-within. I accept myself as a part of making the worlds that I study and I take the employees and their worlds seriously. Dissenting-within is about fostering concerns that we care about (such as sustainability) while refusing self-erasure. Care is, thus, a standpoint to speak from that allows me to care for some issues more than others. In this way, thinking with care is to enable situated knowledge rather than abstract normative ethics.

Author:

Friederike Gesing (University of Bremen)

Paper long abstract:

The question of how to deal with coastal erosion now and in the future has been put on many political agendas. Anticipated effects of climate change and ongoing coastal development booms increase coastal hazard risk worldwide. As natural processes and human actions intersect and possibly collide in the limited space of the coast, the ensuing coastal hazard risk is always a socionatural phenomenon.

'Working with nature' (and not against is) provides a new collective vision about coastal protection, questioning the sole dependence on structural approaches of hard engineering in favour of so-called soft measures. A community of coastal management practitioners tries to push this sociotechnical imaginary (Jasanoff and Kim 2009, 2013), promoting dune restoration, artificial reefs and other techniques that claim to work with natural coastal processes.

While being sympathetic with these ideas, from the analytical standpoint it seems necessary to add another layer of complexity, and to problematize this reference to "capital-N Nature" (Hinchliffe 2007:3; Tsing 2005: 88f.; Castree 2005: 8). As others have argued (eg. Hinchliffe 2007: 188), the concept of an abstract singular Nature has lost its power as a normative grounding. Instead, nature needs to be thought of as multiple, brought about in and through practices. But can such theory-led attempts to achieve a more complex understand of nature, environment and biodiversity be translated back to the community of practice that tries to speak for Nature, and uses Nature as a means to make their case against unsustainable practices of coastal protection?

Author:

Stathis Arapostathis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)

Paper long abstract:

The paper aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the water management practices and conflicts in the late Modern Greece. It explores the dynamics of expertise and authority in the public debates relevant water management and specifically the management of rivers, the construction of water dams and the implementation of projects of rivers' diversion. Emphasis is given in the case of the river Acheloos in central Greece, an emblematic case of incomplete water management project and a case that influenced dramatically both the regional politics in Thessaly and the national techno-political culture. The public policies and public debates about the diversion of the river of Acheloos initiated in the 1930s but since 1960s there were continuous public conflicts that involved local communities, engineering institutes, local authorities, local rural communities, consulting companies, NGOs and environmental groups. Two are the major contributions of the paper. Firstly, I argue that the politics of expertise as it was developed in the historical transition of the public debate contributed in the configuration of public policies in water management, rural development and energy and agricultural policies. The establishment of credible expert advice was co-constructed with regimes of sustainability and natural commons. Secondly, the paper contributes a historical perspective in the public debate. Thus it will shed light on the roles and actions of different actors and institutions and on the changing character of networks of power over a period of 70 years. The paper is based on interviews and original research in local and national archives.

Author:

Nina Baron (Aarhus University )

Paper long abstract:

The climate is changing and larger cities in Europe are in a process of planning how to meet this challenge. This article focuses on the concept of LAR (local handling of rainwater) and the role of private home owners in urban climate adaptation. By looking at how the concept of LAR is used, changed and turned in to practice, the article discuss the role of home owners in handling of rain and cloudburst. The article reports from a case study of a housing cooperative in Copenhagen, which has tried to start a large LAR project. Especially a cloudburst in the summer 2011, as well as changing local policies has been powerful actors influencing this process. Using Actor-network theory the focus of the article is on how the concept of LAR, and thereby the role of the residents of the housing cooperative have been transformed and challenged by a number of other actors such as; municipality employees, rainwater, local plans, roads, roofs, adaptation policy, drinking water and many more. Three central controversies get identified around the concept of LAR: first if climate change adaptation plans should focus on private or public areas; second if the main concern should be daily rain or extreme weather; third if rainwater should be seen as a resources or a problem. The article shows how those controversies are changing the connection between actors and thereby continually are transforming the role and understandings of private home owners.

Author:

Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen (Aalborg University)

Paper long abstract:

Based on twelve months of ethnographic doctoral fieldwork, this paper describes and analyses how engineers working with water in Arequipa engage with particular technologies and infrastructures, doing and redoing water as part of a particular urban ecology.

Setting out from Bruno Latour's ideas about purification as related to the self-conception of modernity, it discusses water engineering as a practice. It draws upon Penny Harvey's and others' work on engineering as a project of transforming the natural world through human agency and discusses the power that has been acquired by engineers in Peru to define water policies on the basis of technical knowledge. Engineers are addressed as doers of particular ways of knowing an urban ecology, and data from visits to tanks and water plants provide the ethnography for an analysis of relations between (technical) knowledge and practices, and (political) power. Through an abstract analysis of the role of categories that emerge through 'purifying' engineer practices, it is argued that the technical domain, as represented by engineers, emerges as separate from and superior to political and social domains. This represents a practice of boundary drawing between the political and the non-political. Technical knowledge obliterates other knowledge forms on water, and technical knowledge is a highly politicised form of knowledge. The paper engages with engineer ways of knowing, doing and undoing as situated practices, and reflectively asks how research can take part in reconfiguring the way environmental assemblages work.

Author:

Brit Winthereik (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper long abstract:

How can agencies located in Denmark, in Japan, or in the United Kingdom know that money spent on projects in Vietnam or in India has been spent well? How can they know that their activities and projects in other parts of the world run smoothly and achieve their objectives? Casper Bruun Jensen and Brit Ross Winthereik explore these and many other questions in the monograph Monitoring Movements in Development Aid: Recursive Partnerships and Infrastructures (2013, MIT Press). Doing so, they conceive of the world of development aid as a problematic landscape, populated by multiple actors, provisionally tied together by diverse accountability practices that are mediated by information infrastructures.

Seen through the lenses of science and technology studies (STS), infrastructure studies and anthropology, infrastructure becomes a tricky empirical and analytical object; one that is crucial not only for international aid development projects but for the ways in which we imagine global modernization at large. In this talk, Brit Ross Winthereik focuses on some of the empirical and analytical challenges posed by global aid infrastructures. These are due not least to the fact that development partnerships constantly redefine the conditions for improving accountability, and thus for the infrastructures required to support it.

Author:

Christian Nold (University of the Arts London)

Paper long abstract:

The paper focuses on an empirical case study in which the designer-researcher was employed by an EU research project to enrol people to use environmental sensing devices in the context of Heathrow airport. In addition to his official role, the designer-researcher also acted as a participant observer, that could intervene in the case study by creating a range of alternative design prototypes with locals opposed to the expansion of the airport. These prototypes were functioning sensing devices, that materially articulated alternative modalities of noise as political affects. The devices functioned to both support and challenge the local residents, in terms of what and how to sense and who to hold responsible for environmental problems. Rather than building consensus, the devices functioned as pivot points for crystallising positions amongst the local residents. The paper explores the notion of 'experimental political ontology' by Marres (2013), which proposes investing non-humans with political capacities in order to disrupt established ontologies. Thus this paper proposes the potential for a broader methodology of designing experimental devices in parallel with official technologies which can create productive frictions that open up the black boxes of technical/affective controversies such as environmental data practices. The position of the designer as ethnographer brings together the designer's fluidity of manipulating material scripts, with an actor-network sensibility towards ethnography.

Marres, N. (2013), 'Why political ontology must be experimentalized: On eco-show homes as devices of participation', Social Studies of Science 43(3), 417-443.

Author:

Thomas Berker (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Paper long abstract:

Generous research funding and (the announcement of) stricter building codes have created a powerful incentive for engineers and architects to find answers to the question of what makes built structures sustainable. In this paper I focus on two prominent groups of answers. First, like many other areas, the built environment is currently in the process of becoming profoundly informatized. With better and more data - it is claimed - more efficient resource use will be possible. The outcome of this approach is ever more advanced numerical modelling of constructions' performance that is combined with fine-grained real-time monitoring during the use phase. Second, particularly architects stress the importance of non-measurable qualities and a whole that is more than the sum of its individual measurements. Where the efficient machine is the leading metaphor for the first group, here, nature is the major source of inspiration.

Following a well-established tradition within STS, in this paper I explore the space between the extremes by following a group of young engineers and architects that weave together nature, technology and humans in new and surprising ways. More specifically, I describe how built structures are currently rethought as relational constructs drawing on principles, tools and metaphors from both machines and nature. By combining basic insights from ANT and assemblage theory with these new architectural and engineering approaches, I argue, exchanges between STS scholars and practitioners are possible that serve both sides.

Author:

Anna Wallsten (Technology and Social Change)

Paper long abstract:

The Smart Grid is often described as an obligatory passage point, that is, an essential sociotechnical configuration through which renewable energy sources are integrated in the electric grid. In this context and according to visions of Smart Grid gatekeepers, electricity users are portrayed as active participants in the electricity market who are anticipated to make rational choices regarding electricity use in their homes, depending on fluctuations in the electricity price. I study a Smart Grid project where this vision is put into practice, and where the portrayed smart grid users are made alive. In this project households participate in testing services described as components in the future Smart Grid. I follow professionals in their work to configure a techno-economic framing that performs rational electricity users. I seek to understand their negations on how to construct the project, and the various controversies that occur in their sense making process. I employ the notion of 'overflows' to identify and analyze challenges in the overall framing, and these overflows help me understand different tensions present in ongoing negotiations on how to introduce smart grid technologies to households. I identify several overflows that in different ways challenge the rational choice framing. These overflows are present in the selected technological solutions, the incentives that are being offered to convince users to participate, and in professionals' reflections on users' desires and needs.

Authors:

Giacomo Poderi (IT University of Copenhagen)
Andre Capaccioli (University of Trento)
Matteo Salvatore Bonifacio (University of Trento)

Paper long abstract:

Environmental factors related to global warming, new and ambitious energy policies, developments in renewable energy technologies and the makings of ICTs are driving a radical change in the way energy is produced, transmitted and used. We are entering the paradigm of Smart Energy Grids that is characterized by a fundamental shift from a centralized and one-way energy flow to a distributed and bidirectional one. By focusing on the EU/FP7 funded project CIVIS, we discuss how the initial project activities revealed smart metering technology to act as a boundary object (BO) amid intricate and heterogeneous stakeholders' interests - researchers' ones included. BOs are artifacts that allow for negotiation and alignment among different socio-technical worlds, because they are solid and plastic enouogh to provide interpretive constraints and flexibility at the same time. The vision and objectives of CIVIS project are to design a fairer, more sustainable and energy-friendly city by linking energy, ICT and societal networks to achieve significant impacts in terms of CO2 emissions reduction and new forms of social innovations which are able to tackle pressing social demands. The presentation will (i) discuss the potentialities and critical aspects of smart metering technology; and (ii) sketch a stakeholders' map where smart meters act as boundary objects along the way of CIVIS vision implementation.