ecological care

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

Ecological concerns about global warming, biodiversity collapse, or toxic pollution are not new. Ever since the impact of human action on the planet’s geology and ecosystems was recognised in the mid-twentieth century, concerns about its future have mobilised humans 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 away from fossil-fuels and towards renewable energy sources. Science, markets, and governments have sought to address ecological concerns, as have humans in their roles as citizens, activists, and consumers.

As these actors initiate transitions towards fossil-free societies, circular economies, and sustainable supply chains they are guided by the promise of technological advancement. Soil contamination can be reduced by deploying innovative wastewater methods; a growing demand for energy can be met by cutting-edge renewable power systems; and plastic pollution can be contained by switching to ingenious bio-based products. Put differently, eco-technologies which are designed or appropriated to address the planetary degradation are expected to fix this crisis by harnessing the power of nature to help mitigate and reverse the Anthropocene’s effects. By design the cause-and-effect mechanics of technologies may be supposed to do so. However, the erratic nature of our planet’s biosphere and ecosystems cannot be contained by standardised and scalable technologies. Nor can the intricate mundanities of everyday life that take place at home, during economic exchange or in scientific labs. Thinking about technologies in terms of control with its implications of management, containment, and obduracy runs the risk of assuming technologies will solve problems. Rather, I argue we need to think about technologies in terms of care which brings associations of volatility, adaptability, and fragility. It intimates enduring maintenance of the damaged planet humans live on, as well as the daily techno-situations humans live in.

 

This shift is needed because in a world of continuous ecological deprivation, the trope of technological advancement upholds a discourse inapt to our present biosphere condition. On a damaged planet, humans may use eco-technologies—be it a wastewater treatment method, solar power systems, or a bio-enzymatic cleaner— to help them stay focused on the unfolding ecological trouble rather than fix it. Put another way, eco-technologies may help humans care for a damaged planet. Also, thinking with care is insightful because often, in situations in which humans try to do good, ecological concerns interfere with other concerns. For example, researchers fine-tuning the operations of a wastewater treatment prototype in an experimental setting may fail to scientifically ascertain which micropollutants remain in the treated waste water. Or, photovoltaic panels may not align well with a household’s desire for a beautiful, unspoiled roof and therefore not be purchased. And finally, 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 technologies in situations where various concerns interfere with each other. To care for a damaged planet entails drawing heterogeneous concerns together, constantly.

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).

articles

De Wilde, M. (2020) A care-infused market tale: on (not) maintaining relationships of trust in energy retrofit products. Journal of Cultural Economy 13 (5): 561-578.

 

De Wilde, M. (2019) The sustainable housing question: the role of interpersonal, impersonal and professional trust in low-carbon retrofit decisions by homeowners. Energy Research & Social Science. 51: 138-147.

 

De Wilde, M. & G. Spaargaren (2019) Designing trust: how strategic intermediaries choreograph homeowners’ low-carbon retrofit experience. Building Research & Information. 4 (4): 362-374.

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) Energy transitions at home: on maintainability and the repair of gender-technology relations. 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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