ecological care

technology / concerns / interferences
University of Edinburgh / Wageningen University (postdoc)

Ecological concerns about climate change, soil contamination and toxic pollution are not new. Ever since the human impact on our planet’s ecosystems was recognised in the mid-twentieth century, concerns about our Anthropocene biosphere have mobilised people into action. The 1960s saw Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring spark an environmental movement around soil contamination and nature conservation; in the 1970s, scientists gathered in the Club of Rome directed citizens’ and governments’ concerns towards acid rain and ozone depletion; the 1980s and 1990s saw environmental NGOs nudge consumers towards ethical choices with regard to animal welfare and rainforest conservation; and in the new millennium, governments across the globe have started to transition towards renewable energy sources. Science, markets, and governments have sought to address ecological concerns, as have people in their roles as citizens, activists and consumers.

As these actors initiate transitions towards circular economies, fossil-free societies, and sustainable consumption, they are guided by the ecomodernist promise of a technological cure. Water scarcity and soil contamination can be reduced by deploying innovative wastewater methods; the rising global demand for energy can be met by cutting-edge renewable energy systems; and toxic pollution can be contained by switching to ingenious bio-based products. Put differently, technologies whose design originate in our collective concerns about the ecological degradation on a planetary scale are expected to fix this crisis. Indeed, in theory many existing technologies address ecological concerns. However, the intricate entanglements that constitute our planet’s ecosystems cannot be controlled by the mechanics of standardised and scalable technologies. Thinking about technologies in terms of control with its implications of domination, stability, and solution runs the risk of assuming technologies solve problems for us. Rather, we need to think about technologies in terms of care with its associations of relationality, adaptability, and attention as this intimates enduring maintenance of the damaged planet we live on.

This is needed because in a world of continuous ecological deprivation, the trope of technological control upholds a discourse inappropriate to our present biosphere condition. On a damaged planet, we may use technologies—be it a wastewater treatment method, a heat pump, or a bio-enzymatic cleaner— to help us to stay focused on the unfolding ecological trouble rather than fix it. Stated differently, technologies may help us care for our damaged planet instead of control it. Also, thinking with care is insightful because ecological concerns often interfere with other concerns in situations in which people try to care for our damaged planet. Researchers fine-tuning the operations of a wastewater treatment prototype outside their lab may  battle leakages and therefore fail to scientifically ascertain which micropollutants remain in the treated waste water. Domestic heat pumps may not align well with households’ demand for comfort and therefore remain unsold. A bio-enzymatic cleaner, although biodegradable, may be deemed less hygienic than a synthetic detergent and remain in the cupboard, unused. These examples foreground ecological care as a modality of tinkering with interfering concerns.

The concerns that guide the above examples are of an ecological sort, but as eco-friendly technologies are invented and tamed in scientific work, commodified and purchased in market exchange, and revamped and used as part of domestic routine, ecological concerns are no longer solely at stake. Other concerns regarding, for instance, scientific reliability, economic viability, or hygiene—await them, and interfere with them. To care for our damaged planet entails aligning heterogeneous concerns, constantly. These interferences are productive tensions and inspire stories of technological relations with, on, and for a damaged planet. These stories make way for thinking expertise differently, emphasising technological fragility and offering alternative understandings of innovation.

The below articles and working papers are a result of three research projects I undertook as a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh (UK) and the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University (Netherlands).


working papers

De Wilde, M. & S. Parry (nd)  Feminised concerns, feminist care: reclaiming gender normativities in zero waste living. Paper presented at the European Sociological Association Conference in Manchester, UK, 20-23 August 2019.

De Wilde, M. (nd) Renewable energy technicians at work: distributing technologies, deploying care and, sometimes, reshaping gender. Currently under review.

populaire media

"Samen verduurzamen, spotlight op het gezin". Artikel voor Renda: netwerk voor professionals in de sociale woningbouw, mei 2019.

​"Zonnepaneel voor man, isolatie voor vrouw". Interview met Eigen Huis Magazine. april 2019.

"E-magazine: hoe gezinnen besluiten over energiebesparing". Utrecht: Cooperatie Hoom, april 2019.

"Wie gaat er over de energie in huis?" Interview met Buurkracht. 22 juli 2018.

"Pubers en peuters zetten indirect aan tot energiebesparende maatregelen". Interview met Energeia, kennisplatform voor energieprofessionals. 6 juli 2018.

"Buurtaanpak werkt op vertrouwen". Interview met Buurkracht. 7 februari 2018.

"Woningverduurzaming staat vaak onder aan het lijstje, naast de belastingaangifte". Interview met Energeia, kennisplatform voor energieprofessionals. 30 januari 2018.

"Kijk door de bril van een verzorgingssocioloog naar de energietransitie en er gaat een wereld voor je open". Interview met Klimaatverbond Nederland in het kader van Warmetruiendag. 27 januari 2018.


"Samen op reis richting een energiezuinige woning: veelbelovende bewonersgerichte aanpakken energiebesparing." Artikel voor Energie+: kennisplatform lokaal duurzaam opgewekt. Vol. 2, 2017.


"Betrouwbare partner is sleutel om woningeigenaren te bewegen tot energiebesparingsmaatregelen." Verslag van de onderzoeksbevindingen op de website van HIER Klimaatbureau. 7 december 2017.

De invloed van het gezin op de verduurzaming van woningen. Interview met Topsector Energie. 20 juni 2017.

Onderzoeker reist mee met buurtbewoners op weg naar energiewinst. Interview met Buurkracht. 10 maart 2017.

Energiebesparing: stappen maken in de klantreis. Verslag van mijn bijdrage aan een debat over energiebesparing op HIER Opgewekt, kennisplatform voor lokale energie initiatieven. 18 november 2016.


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