The Secret Life of Things

Client:  Great Recovery Project.

“Toothbrush”- a video.

The Great Recovery (GR) promotes a more sustainable, circular economy of materials through design work.  We set out to help the project understand what the significant considerations are in redesigning domestic objects to be more materially sustainable, when those objects have to function well within domestic cosmologies of meaning and values, emotional landscapes, sensibilities, and within routines, habits, and personal identities.  The GR project has good contacts with members of industry, design, governance, waste disposal, recycling, and other areas of the materials-related economy, but nonetheless it is in the home where key decisions are made about what products succeed or fail, about when they are disposed of, recycled or reused.  We aimed to unlock this cultural ‘black box’ for designers at the GR, and to analyse key values in the home in such a way that we could take account of specific consumables, and in an easy-to-understand, pragmatic, heuristic, and humanistic fashion.

We explored four categories of goods in four homes of people from different backgrounds, genders, and generations.  Taking the different stories which people told us of these objects, we combined and rewove them to tell the story of the toothbrush, of the kettle, the mug, and of clothing.

Samples of the ethnographic work can be found on our Vimeo site:

Each of these four objects seems to develop a different web of variables and ideas around them, built into their usage and the interactions which happen around them.  Body, Value, Identity, Materiality, Time, and Space are the names we give to these ideas.  For each object, these variables articulate differently, delineating different determinisms, different capacities for social flexibility, and different ways in which the material matters in cultural terms.  Through attention to the specifics of homes, lives, and materials, it is possible to inform and challenge how sustainable redesign of objects can offer the possibility of greater success.

Project Work By:  Lin Xinran, Katherine Carey, Emilia Atuesta, Kristina Fenske

Contact at the Great Recovery:  Sophie Thomas

Summer 2013

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