Accepted Paper:

Making New Assets from Old: Future Cities   


Janette Webb (University of Edinburgh)
David Hawkey (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Concepts from sociology of technology are used to examine contemporary struggles between Glasgow city council and energy utilities to transform old things, constituted under public ownership, into new "future city" energy and carbon assets with currency in a neo-liberal political economy and society.

Paper long abstract:

The City of Glasgow, known historically as ˜Second City of British Empire", contributed to the industrial revolution and formation of a modern economics for making assets out of things. By 1945 the Glasgow Corporation owned considerable assets, including extensive energy networks. In 2016, Glasgow city council is a microcosm of the British economisation of welfare, and energy suppliers in the city are predominantly trans-national private enterprises. The paper uses social studies of technology to examine contemporary struggles between city council and energy utilities to transform old building and energy assets, constituted under public ownership, into new assets with 'currency' in a neo-liberal political economy. Our research combines interviews, ethnography and documents, collected over three years. The analysis examines attempts to configure buildings, energy and carbon as assets which behave as 'an income stream… a net revenue generator for Glasgow…' (Glasgow Energy and Carbon Masterplan p.66-67), and as a source of profitability for the energy utility. The choreography of people, technical devices and physical artefacts is discussed in relation to differing City Council and energy utility attempts to build durable facts about the value of things, and to enrol others in this translation of old things (particularly buildings and energy networks) into assets with financial value for a 'future city'. Making new assets from old things in these circumstances is shown to be a process marked by uncertainty, disruption and reversals. The paper contributes to theorising about the indeterminacies of power implicated in turning things into assets, in neo-liberal capitalism.

Panel T005
Turning Things into Assets