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Title: In search of sustainable materials : negotiating materiality and morality in the UK materials industry
Author: Wilkes, S. E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5357 9247
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis is an ethnography of the materials scientists, engineers and designers who make up the membership of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), a professional body representing the UK materials industry. This piece of research explores the dynamic and relational process whereby materials such as steel, copper and PVC come to be seen as sustainable. It investigates the role that people, institutions, tools for knowledge production and transfer, and manufacturing processes play in this classificatory process. This work contributes to a reappraisal of sustainability theory by drawing on concepts of vital and dialectical materialism to argue that materials themselves impinge on peoples’ understandings of sustainability; materials, makers and their moral landscapes are mutually constituted. The first part of the thesis follows the sustainability discourses of my research participants. Their many different interpretations of what counts as a sustainable material offer an opportunity to compare the anxieties and priorities of the different communities that make up the UK materials industry, and the contradictions and tensions inherent in the concept of sustainability. The second part of the thesis explores various tools and techniques that people use to govern materials and make them fit with ideas of sustainability. Materials producers make changes to the physical make-up of materials, to their spatial and temporal flow, to manufacturing and auditing processes, to their institutional organisations and to themselves in attempts to be perceived as sustainable. The third part explores the ways in which materials resist or enable these human efforts. It argues that producers’ understandings of sustainability are affected by the affordances of the materials they deal with on a daily basis. As a result, ethics is not a solely human affair. The particular ethical sensibilities of materials producers and users are constituted through the process of making and using specific materials.
Supervisor: Kuechler, S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available