The stewardship of things: Property and responsibility in the management of manufactured goods

Open access version here

In this article we argue that understanding of embedded practices of material responsibility at the household scale can both reinvigorate the concept of product stewardship as a potentially radical intervention. I co-authored it with Ruth Lane and it was published in the journal Geoforum in 2012.

open accesspublished version | cited by.. |

Lane R, M Watson (2012) ‘The stewardship of things: Property and responsibility in the management of manufactured goods’ Geoforum, 43: 1254-1265.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.03.012

In the context of broad-based concerns about the need to move towards a more sustainable materials economy, particularly as they are expressed in debates around ecological modernisation (EM), we argue that product stewardship has radical potential as a means to promote significant change in the relationship between society and the material world. We focus on two important dimensions that have been neglected in approaches to product stewardship to date. Firstly, we argue that immanent within the basic concept of stewardship is a problematisation of dominant understandings of property ownership in neoliberal market economies. In the space opened up by notions of stewardship, different ways of enacting both rights and responsibilities to products and materials emerge which have potential to advance the sustainability of material economies. Secondly, through exploration of existing expressions of product stewardship, we uncover a neglected scale of action. Both policy and dominant articulations of EM focus primarily on the efficiency of production processes; and secondarily, the attitudes and behaviours of individual consumers. Missing from this is the ‘meso-scale’ of social collectives including households, neighbourhoods, more distributed communities and small scale social enterprises. Based on a review of existing research from Australia and the UK, including our own, we argue that understanding of embedded practices of material responsibility at the household scale can both reinvigorate the concept of product stewardship as a potentially radical intervention, and reveal the potential of the meso-scale as a challenging but worthwhile realm of policy intervention.

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Author: Matt Watson

A Human Geographer at the University of Sheffield, interested in how everyday human action and social orders make each other, with implications for sustainability and wellbeing. Currently looking at energy including how to tackle demand for it.

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