Domestic Cosmologies of Materials and Disposal

Client:  The Great Recovery Project

By:  Alison Violet-Mount, Emily (Chenyi) Cai, Lulu Chen, Xian Chen, Foong Wai Ng

Summer 2012

This work aimed to assist the Great Recovery Project in their work on circular, sustainable economies of materials, by exploring what disposal is in the home.  We aimed to achieve a holistic viewpoint on the values, routines and practices which surround keeping things, sorting things and throwing things away in a range of kinds of homes.  We considered stages of life, religious sensibilities and other sets of ideals and values in the work, so as to challenge and test the project of sustainable design with ethnographically grounded observations.

When looking at key places and moments in the home where materials, and activities which affect them, come to the fore, one might expect to find that people talk about the ways in which their household and family rationalise their decisions.  When we looked at places such as rubbish bins, storage areas, and places where objects entered the home, we found that often people talked of their ethical positions as regards spiritual and moral cosmology.  In the smallest or most transient home, one can find a magesterial philosophy of life.  A range of other factors also came to the fore, such as acts of remembering, skilled labour, and stages in life, and video case studies illustrated these cosmologies of home.

In this work, we presented a range of kinds of cosmology, sets of values, and aesthetic concerns, of home which we encountered.  The work challenged concepts of how households fit into wider scehmas of rationality about materials, and illustrated some of the problems in producing a smooth articulation of thinking between the designers, producers, users, recyclers and disposers of goods and materials.  A humanistic approach to design involves a range of challenges, proving the value of participation in the design process, as importantly as attempts to analyse and predict users’ concerns.

Contact at TGR:  Sophie Thomas

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