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Recycling is a concept, normally taken-for-granted within academic approaches to environmental management. Recognising that recycling should be preceded by reduction of waste and re-use, the science of recycling usually addresses its object as an activity which needs optimising, rather than questioning. My take on recycling differs from the standard one: I focus on possibilities to conceptualise an agent who was responsible for implementing a recycling scheme for her organisation. By way of drawing on sociological theories (especially Bourdieu’s theory of practice and Actor-network theory) I point to significant problems in approaching sustainability. The empirical data consists of ethnographic field work which illustrates societal implications of thinking about transforming organisations towards sustainable conduct: by constructing a recycling scheme the waste manager of the organisation ensures that the organisation does not move towards reducing or altering resource consumption. Rather, she stabilises an unsustainable trajectory and inhibits societal transformation even beyond her organisation. Thus, sociological theory allows for problematising and better grasping of the societal implications and limitations of environmental management.
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22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives
on Recycling a Hybrid Object
Ingmar Lippert
Augsburg University, Chair of Sociology, Augsburg, Germany
ANT Actor-network theory
EM Ecological Modernisation
EMT Ecological Modernisation Theory
OPP Obligatory Passage Point
22.1 Introduction
Recycling is a concept, normally taken-for-granted within academic approaches to
environmental management. Recognising that recycling should be preceded by re-
duction of waste and re-use, the science of recycling usually addresses its object as
an activity which needs optimising, rather than questioning. My take on recycling
differs from the standard one: I focus on possibilities to conceptualise an agent
who was responsible for implementing a recycling scheme for her1 organisation.
By way of drawing on sociological theories (especially Bourdieu’s theory of prac-
tice and Actor-network theory) I point to significant problems in approaching sus-
tainability. The empirical data consists of ethnographic field work which illus-
trates societal implications of thinking about transforming organisations towards
sustainable conduct: by constructing a recycling scheme the waste manager of the
organisation ensures that the organisation does not move towards reducing or al-
tering resource consumption. Rather, she stabilises an unsustainable trajectory and
inhibits societal transformation even beyond her organisation. Thus, sociological
theory allows for problematising and better grasping of the societal implications
and limitations of environmental management.
In this paper I am concerned with an everyday set of activities to protect the
environment: recycling. Recycling is a ubiquitous social practice which in general
1 In order to break with the ascribed masculinity of agency, this paper refers to agents in
general as female, while the case study revolves around a male actor.
M. Schmidt et al. (eds.), Implementing Environmental and Resource Management, 283
DOI 10.1007/978-3-540-77568-3_22, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011
284 Ingmar Lippert
is taken-for-granted as contributing to ecological sustainability. Western environ-
mentalists, both governments and many grassroots activists, share the common
sense of ‘the more recycling, the better’. However, recycling is merely one mo-
ment of materialised social relations between humans and things, in Western so-
cieties characterised by capitalist production and consumption. The aim of this pa-
per, then, is to focus on the social context of this very moment and, therefore, we
ask: how can social theory be of help to problematise environmental management
practices and technologies, including their social and environmental implications?
To make this practically relevant I focus on theories that may illuminate the role
of the actor, i.e. the environmental manager. By far the most influential discourse
on recycling seems to be Ecological Modernisation. Its paradigm is one of green-
ing the state and industry by more efficient industrial production enabled by all-
encompassing capitalist markets. However, both critical academics as well as
ecologically oriented social movements argue that, in fact, the hegemonic paths of
greening are sustaining ‘unsustainability’ (Blühdorn and Welsh 2007). To uncover
the relevancy of social relations embedded in recycling practices I draw on a case
of an environmental manager of a small organisation who set up a recycling net-
work for a nightclub. I encountered this case during ethnographic research on en-
vironmental managers in Germany, Austria and the UK between 2006 and 2008.
The method used, ethnography, is increasingly deemed useful for research on (en-
vironmental) management2.
Three theoretical approaches serve to frame this set of practices which bring
about a recycling network. First, the hegemonic approach to conceptualise green-
ing of organisations, Ecological Modernisation Theory, enables us to understand
how recycling can easily be thought of as use- and meaningful. Second, Actor-
network theory, a relational method developed to scrutinise the enacting of science
and technology, illuminates the social context in which recycling is socially and
materially constructed as necessary and which is embedded within recycling.
Third, a Bourdieusian approach, i.e. one drawing on the writings of the French so-
ciologist Pierre Bourdieu, problematises the societal conditions under which recy-
cling is use- and meaningful. This engagement with conflicting theoretical ap-
proaches, a kaleidoscope of social theory, allows us to question everyday waste
and one of the prime technologies to handle it, i.e. recycling.
By sketching this kaleidoscopic view it becomes possible to imagine the com-
plexity of recycling reality. A single theoretical approach alone would risk draw-
ing too nice and neat a picture of recycling. In the following, therefore, I will out-
line the case and, thereafter, apply the three theoretical perspectives to it to
illustrate the myriad social aspects of recycling. The discussion of these perspec-
tives points us to limits of manageability. Finally, by way of summarising, the
conclusion argues that recycling may sustain unsustainability both materially and
socially. Thus, inspired by Keller (1998, p. 290), recycling emerges as a useful ob-
ject to question the social technologies which Western societies are based upon.
2 Cf. e.g. Howard-Grenville et al. 2008, Hassard et al. 2007.
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 285
22.2 Situating Recycling in Practice
The practice of recycling is intrinsically linked to the creation and management of
waste. Societies of all kinds, cultures and ages had to deal with both the disposal
of no-longer needed materials and the gathering of those bits which could be used
directly or after processing (Keller 1998, p. 61)3. By now, it seems common sense
in policy discourse that “industrial operations should be encouraged that are more
efficient in terms of resource use, that generate less pollution and waste [as well as
on those] that are based on the use of renewable [...] resources” (Brundtland et al.
1987, p. 213). Corporations claim to green themselves and in the course of that
they introduce recycling schemes. However, the limits of recycling remain to be
scrutinised. To situate the limits of managing recycling in the social4 a case seems
The case revolves around Julian Berger whom I met in 2006 during my ethno-
graphic fieldwork. I spent a day with Julian5 at one of my frequent meetings with
students and staff involved in ‘greening’ universities – somewhere in Western
Europe6. Julian was employed by the student union of his university to co-ordinate
environmental projects and the environmental management of the union. Before
this part-time job he had been taking a course dealing with environmental issues.
His work consisted, amongst other things, of communicating with authorities and
firms to organise recycling within the university and other facilities within the un-
ion. At the same time he was responsible for the recycling of the union office
waste. Other topics he dealt with were energy saving and mobility.
I joined Julian at his work to study his practices. For his work he was con-
stantly communicating with others: he needed them to fulfil his tasks, he tried to
convince them, they directed him and he served them. Julian was telling me that it
was his aim to implement structures within the student union that would help it to
become ‘green’. During this day it became obvious to me that he was part of many
social relations. He made this explicit by talking about what he was doing: “(I)
3 For a definition of recycling see Simonis et al. (2003, p. 167).
4 Within the paper, ‘the social’ is not conceived of as a sphere, neatly separated from other
spheres. Rather, the social signifies the all encompassing presence of societal relations,
practices mediating between us, involved in all human reality including the knowing of
any kind of reality.
5 During this day I undertook ethnographic fieldwork (Agar 1980; Thomas 1993; Burawoy
1998; Graeber 2004) which was part of an engagement with Julian lasting about 10
months. My prime role was being an observer, and occasionally I helped Julian to carry
out his tasks. All data from this day is based on field notes. My use of field notes has
been inspired by Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (1995). The analysis aimed at problematising
an instance of his practices and do neither represent Julian's intentions nor the wider mi-
cro-political setting in which he acted.
6 I have been involved with ‘greening’ universities from 2001 till 2007. In this time I met
all kinds of university members who dealt with this issue in Austria, Belgium, Germany
and the UK.
286 Ingmar Lippert
force him to have an appointment with me”, but also “people are avoiding (me)”.
These relations were a significant medium to achieve his tasks. What were ‘his
tasks’? Actually, I found it was not easy to differentiate between the tasks he set
for himself and the ones his job required. Or, did his job require him to set his own
In the early afternoon we went through the offices of the student union to
gather materials and bring them to recycling points. At one of the points he recog-
nised that the recycling container was ‘polluted’ with matter which was not sup-
posed to be there. So he got the matter out and brought it somewhere else. Was
this a required task? It probably was not part of his job description, but of his
stance towards environmental issues: Julian had – and used his – agency to change
this detail to improve the environmental situation. Later that day he was talking
with his boss about energy saving in one of the clubs of the union. The boss made
clear where Julian’s agency ended: “night clubs (are) designed to waste energy”.
Four years later, Julian remarked in a written comment on this paper: “Exactly! It
is not the remit of an environmental manager to close down the organisation for
which he works for”.
In my analysis of the day I became particularly interested in Julian’s agency in
setting up a recycling network. He had the task to organise glass recycling for one
of the facilities of the student union; a task which he approached by getting in
touch with recycling companies. From them he learned that the amount of glass
‘waste’ was not enough for the recycling companies and hence they would not
come ‘just’ for the student union facility. In this situation he could have said:
“Well, I don’t get enough glass and therefore recycling does not work.” Instead,
however, he got in touch with other producers of glass ‘waste’, pubs, and managed
to get them into a joint glass recycling scheme. In Bourdieu’s terms (which I will
sketch below) he would do this if it is reasonable to him. Whether something is
reasonable depends on the situation consisting of inner stances and external cir-
cumstances. I aim to open up whether his setup of the recycling scheme can be
considered as Ecological Modernisation (EM). The rationale of Julian’s action
will remain unknown. What we can investigate, however, is how he used the
agency he had at hand. Hence, we shall turn towards approaches of social theory
to describe his action, what it encompasses and its limits.
22.3 A Kaleidoscope of Social Theory
The aim of this section is to introduce three perspectives which seem useful to
problematise limits of managing the environment. On the one hand Ecological
Modernisation Theory is good at sketching the rationality underlying hegemonic
discourses and practices of environmental management. On the other hand the par-
tially conflicting perspectives of Pierre Bourdieu and Actor-network theory allow
situating management practices in their relations. I do not give full analyses of ei-
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 287
ther of these theories7. Rather, I aim at illustrating a possibility to problematise
Julian’s construction of the recycling network.
22.3.1 The Green Lenses of Ecological Modernisation Theory
Julian’s job, greening an organisation, is normally considered by sociologists as
within the paradigm of Ecological Modernisation. Ecological Modernisation is
conceptualised by sociology as Ecological Modernisation Theory8 – and EMT
prevails9. Here goes the story-line:
Modern industrial societies created and experience ecological crises. The idea
that ‘greening’ the institutions of industrial society can solve the global ecological
crisis10 has been called Ecological Modernisation (EM). The theorists Arthur Mol,
Gert Spaargaren, Martin Jänicke and Joseph Huber11 suggest(ed) that industrial
societies provide a role model for mitigating and preventing further deepening of
the crisis. Their approach became widely known as Ecological Modernisation
Theory (EMT). EM claims that industrialised societies can reach a balanced rela-
tionship with nature by engaging with the latter more techno-scientifically and in
ways more mediated by the market economy.
This claim, however, is also the focus of fundamental critique. According to
critics the claim can be categorised as ideological because it is sustained by
techno-corporate élites without taking into account well-known critiques which
convincingly point out that the ecological crisis has been created systematically
and inherently by those structures which EM aims to modernise. Thus, a slight
‘greening’ of the economic order, i.e. capitalism, cannot constitute a suitable sub-
stitute for abolishing this economic order as it also fundamentally constitutes an
ecological order in which profit is always more important than nature12.
Nevertheless, EM as a rationality, i.e. people believing in and practising it, ex-
ists. Julian provides a case of someone who believes that EM is part of solving the
environmental crisis. Opponents of EM, however, recognise that EM fails to un-
derstand what is necessary for the realisation of ‘green’ goals for all. Therefore,
7 For a more detailed discussion of the theories in relation to the case see Lippert (2010).
8 Cf. York and Rosa (2003).
9 Cf. e.g. Blühdorn and Welsh (2007), Jänicke (2008).
10 Summaries of the ecological crisis can be found e.g. in Carvalho (2001, p. 70), Haque
(2000, pp. 5-8) and Dingler (2003, p. 4).
11 Sonnenfeld and Mol (2006), Mol (2006), Jänicke (2004), Mol (2001), Mol and Son-
nenfeld (2000a), Mol (2000)
12 This has been shown by many academics, i.e. Benton (2001) and Pepper (1984). More
specifically, see the critique known as the Treadmill of Production thesis (e.g.
Schnaiberg, Pellow, and Weinberg 2000), the concept of Passive Revolutions by Gramsci
(as in Li and Hersh 2002) and the theory of Metabolic Rift (von Liebig, Marx and Foster)
together with the Jevons Paradox (as in Clark and York 2005).
288 Ingmar Lippert
they suggest that a solution to the crisis needs to be searched outside of either
capitalism, industrialism or both13.
The social existence of EM and its work in and on reality are reason enough to
look more closely at what EM rationality assumes. Two claims can be identified:
(a) reactive technologies are and ought to be substituted by proactive technologies
and (b) the government shall enable the market to allocate environmental goods
efficiently. Implementing these moves would lead to win-win solutions. The EM
rationality goes together with the discourse of Sustainable Development. The lat-
ter can be seen as a form of EM and has become the key discourse through which
environmental problems are discussed since the 1990s14.
EMT reflects upon EM and asserts that nature and capitalism (including its in-
stitutions) can and are in the process of being reconciled. Proponents of EMT ar-
gue (wrongly) that the environment is becoming autonomous from the economic
sphere15. ‘Green’ states – they are postulated by EMT – cannot become a reality
without abolishing the capitalist mode of production. The trap into which EMT
falls is that it construes instances of tiny considerations of the environment as
‘green societies’ becoming true16. Such instances might be analytically distinct
from ignoring the environment altogether but are clearly not enough to change the
essence of capitalism17. The gain of EMT is that it provides a quite good concep-
tualisation of the rationality of EM. The theory implies that EM has agents who
put it into practice. Unfortunately, EMT does not explicitly theorise its individual
agents, i.e., the individual meaningful actions.
Does Julian’s construction of the recycling network fit into the rationality of
EM? We find that Julian in fact enlarged what one could conceptualise as a green
market; he drew other business actors into the recycling market in order to comply
with his task. Thus, this aspect of construction meets the rationality of EM. Fur-
thermore, this way of constructing a recycling network not only increases the
market but also approaches the recycling issue qualitatively in market terms. With
EM we can conceptualise the situation preceding recycling as one in which the
material ‘glass waste’ was not integrated as a resource into the market18. EM sug-
gests that such waste merely has to be processed (technically) and henceforth can
be brought into use again. Thus, the construction of the recycling network also
constitutes an approach to solving problems technically. Overall, then, Julian did a
good job in terms of EM: he reformed his organisation (such that it started recy-
cling) and induced similar changes in other organisations (integrating them into
13 See e.g. Enzensberger (1996) or Pepper (2005).
14 Cf. i.e. Redclift and Benton (1994), Benton (1996), von Weizäcker (1999), Mol (2001).
15 See e.g. Mol (2000) vs. Pellow et al. (2000).
16 Schnaiberg, Pellow and Weinberg (2000, p. 15)
17 Marx (1968, see especially Chapter 4 and 5) showed that capitalism is inherently expan-
sive and exploitive. More recently this has been re-discussed by i.e. Li and Hersh (2002,
p. 196) as well as Clark and York (2005, pp. 406-407).
18 The history of glass had included re-use and recycling. In the situation preceding Julian's
activities, glass along with all other materials out of place were transported to landfills.
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 289
the network) both on the base of integrating waste materials into the market and
rendering waste into resources through a technical process. Thus, EMT conceives
Julian’s recycling network as useful to society and its environmental effects as
meaningful to Julian himself.
22.3.2 A Fresh and Flat Perspective through Actor-network Theory
Latour, Callon and Law study science and technology as actor-networks. Their
approach is usually called Actor-network theory (ANT)19. Fasten your seat belts!
ANT uses lots of concepts which need to be introduced. Crucial to this approach is
that they break, like Haraway (1991), with the culture/nature dualism. In ANT an
actor can be anything that acts, i.e., human beings, institutions, and hybrid objects,
i.e., those which are shaped by society through technology or discourse (consider
e.g. a genetically modified animal). This claim is necessary for Actor-network
theorists in order to avoid false assumptions about which actor has how much
power. Thus, their approach is based on an ontology20 which does not discriminate
between humans and non-humans. For ANT, all those who act or are subject or
object of relations of representation are called actants; and they are mapped prin-
cipally in symmetry. The actor-network is not assumed to be asymmetrical from
the outset. Rather, who has power is a matter of empirical study. Power derives
from networks which actants control. What does this mean?
Key authors of ANT, Callon and Latour, agree with many sociologists that the
fundamental problem of society is agent’s interest in more power (1981, p. 293).
In order to win, i.e., to increase power, an actant, say Julian, aims to arrange other
actants such that they provide power to him. This activity is called enlistment.
How does this work? Julian would put elements into a black box, such that they
are not considered anymore by other actants. An element can be anything. ANT
proposes, he “makes other elements dependent upon [himself] and translates their
will into a language of [his] own” (ibid., p. 286). Actants are constantly engaged
in controversies and struggle. The use of ANT is to investigate how controversies
are black-boxed and by that the actants who sits “on top of the box” (ibid., p. 297)
gains power21.
The process of translation is of prime importance to ANT. ANT, as studying
translation (Law 1992), identifies “the simultaneous production of knowledge and
construction of a network of relationships in which social and natural entities mu-
19 In this account I am focussing on Callon and Latour (1981), Woolgar (1991), Law
(1992), Callon (1995), Strathern (1996), Callon (1999) and am informed by Fairhead and
Leach (2003), Michael (2000) as well as Bijker (1995). Law and Hassard (1999) became
aware of many short-comings of ANT meanwhile and sophisticated it significantly.
Within the scope of this paper I focus on original formulations of ANT.
20 Ontology refers to what is. Different ontologies make different assumptions about that.
Cf. Mutch (2002, p. 485).
21 Strathern (1996, p. 523) points us to the fractal logic within the box: networks can be
traced into depth without limits.
290 Ingmar Lippert
tually control who they are and what they want” (Callon 1999, p. 67). According
to ANT, to gain power Julian has to establish himself as an Obligatory Passage
Point (OPP) such that others need him. He would construct obstacle-problems for
others, i.e., make them believe a) that they have a certain aim, b) that such an ob-
stacle-problem is in their way and c) that he is/provides the solution. Thus, by con-
structing an obstacle-problem one creates problems for others. In this process enti-
ties/elements/actants are enlisted. To enlist them they need to be interested. To
bring this about Julian interposes himself between their obstacle-problem and their
aim. To actually mobilise actants one creates new, rather than pre-existing, roles
in which they are put. This is called enrolment. Callon (1999) postulates that the
actants need to be willing to be enrolled22. If Julian, who enrols other actants, is
successful and establishes himself as an OPP then he can represent the others. In
his representation he construes himself as speaking and acting for the others. If the
others do not participate in these processes they become dissidents and, by that,
destabilise the network which Julian aims to construct. The processes which are
necessary to construct the network successfully, i.e., to shape other actants such
that they support a network, are called translation. With this Callon refers to two
aspects of the processes: a) the other actants are displaced and b) the constructor,
i.e., Julian establishes himself as a spokesperson. Through translation “social and
natural worlds progressively take form” (1999, p. 81). To exercise the sociology
of translations it is necessary to provide a “symmetrical and tolerant description”
(ibid), starting with a clean slate (Law 1992), of complex socio-natural processes
and by that one explains how some obtain the right to represent. Of course the
constructor is in conflict with other actants who also want to gain power. Hence,
to become stronger a constructing agent needs to enrol others and disassociate the
black boxes of others such that the agent can enlist their elements. Callon (1995)
points out that translation is not about truth. What ANT does seems to be a transla-
tion of the strategies of the actants. Let us see how this analytical approach works
in practice. ANT takes all interaction between written marks (inscriptions), techni-
cal devices and embodied skills as translation.
This is, taking an ANT perspective, how Julian tried to construct a glass-
recycling scheme: First, Julian established himself as an OPP by construing glass
waste as an obstacle-problem. By this move he connected all actants, i.e., himself,
the glass waste, the recycling company, his boss, the club, other glass waste pro-
ducers and a governmental authority. He pointed out to them that the glass waste
constitutes an obstacle-problem for them (problematisation) and hence they should
22 In his famous study Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the
Scallops and the Fishermen of Saint Brieuc Bay, Callon (1999) looks at a situation in
which scientists try to make themselves necessary to problems which a fishermen’s
community supposedly has. In the course of his study we come across several actants:
fishermen, scientists, and scallops. According to his sociology of translation, for enrol-
ment to be successful the scallops need to want to be enrolled: “To negotiate with the
scallops is to first negotiate with the currents” (1999, p. 74). Thus, he suggests that the
scientists try to communicate with natural objects (which he, of course, sees as social). I
will criticise this later on.
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 291
move into an advantaged position by dealing with the glass waste. These advan-
tages were construed by pointing out what was at stake for each actant: For exam-
ple, the recycling company could earn money and needed to pass the obstacle-
problem ‘glass waste as potential source for profits’, the authority could reach its
environmental policy goals better by giving financial support for recycling of
‘glass waste’. By showing this, Julian established himself as representing their in-
terests: he translated his interests into theirs with the result that his organisation of
the glass recycling scheme constituted acting and speaking on their behalf. Thus,
Julian tried to enrol the other actants in order to get his job done. ANT says that
Julian’s enrolment had the aim to black-box the actants. Actors outside, then,
would take the black box for-granted, rather then questioning its configuration.
This implies he controlled the actor-network ‘glass recycling’ consisting of several
human and non-human entities. It included ‘glass’ as a hybrid of culture and mate-
riality. This means, with ANT, ‘glass’ emerges as an entity which was signifi-
cantly shaped by humans. Human actors: first construe glass through a socially
shaped process of understanding and recognition and second inscribe culture on
the materiality of glass. Some of the relevant actants and their relations are shown
in Figure 22.1. To summarise, Julian’s aim was the translation of actants and the
establishment of himself as a spokesperson23. The ANT reading suggests that he
negotiated with all the actants and that each of them either wanted to participate in
this actor-network or not.
The main problem with ANT is its construal of agents and agency. Many have
pointed out that not all entities are actors24. Indeed when Callon (1981, p. 299)
claims that “(i)t is no more difficult to send tanks into Kabul than to dial 999” it
becomes obvious that their analysis of power is not in touch with reality: it is nei-
ther possible for me to send tanks into Kabul nor can I imagine how my cup of tea,
which helps me a lot in writing this text, should be able to dial 999. Hence, ANT
cannot convince totally. Nevertheless, ANT helps to recognise how significant en-
tities can be as conditions under which we act. For analysis we need to appreciate
this approach to break up ‘taken-for-grantedness’ regarding the relevancy of mate-
The discussion of Julian’s set up of the recycling scheme reveals how it is
meaningful to see it as a network which was stabilised through the various humans
involved and their material and virtual products. While Julian emerged as acting
as a key person to co-configure and stabilise the recycling network, with ANT we
have to wonder: how is the agency to alter the network configured? If ANT’s in-
terpretation of agency is too broad then we need to move on to another sociologi-
cal approach which may problematise the agency we have in affecting realities.
23 In order to construct this overall translation aim he also engaged with ‘minor’ translations
like: job task to email 1 to Governmental authority to Public/private organisation to
communication 1 to Recycling company to collecting glass waste. The length of this pa-
per does not permit to open this black box as well.
24 Cf. e.g. Sibeon (1999, p. 322).
292 Ingmar Lippert
Fig. 22.1. An ANT mapping of actants and relations. Notes: thinnest dashed lines: wished-
for relations; dotted lines with black ending arrow: references to something; medium
dashed lines with white ending arrow: observed communication; thick lines (dashed indi-
cates ‘wished-for’): material connections with glass; simple black lines: existing contacts
(redrawn from Lippert (2010, p. 76))
22.3.3 Considering Agency of Environmental Managers
with Pierre Bourdieu
In order to discuss whether Julian could act otherwise, I introduce the approach of
Bourdieu25. It is apt to use Bourdieu because he transcends the dichotomy between
structure and agency. Thus, by following his thinking we are likely to find results
which are not bound to the dualist framing – in the sense that either the agent can
25 To introduce his approach to social theory I draw on Bourdieu (1989), Bourdieu and
Wacquant (1992), Bourdieu (2001).
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 293
solve all problems or only structural change will help. Rather, we will develop an
understanding of how humans influence others both directly and indirectly. His
account is similar to that of Giddens (1986).
Bourdieu uses an open set of concepts to theorise members of society and their
agency. He views us as existing in social space, a field which comprises all social
relations. We are positioned in this field. We cannot know any absolute position
but must imagine our positions relative to each other26. What we can enquire about
is the relation between our positions. The forms of relations are manifestations of
our access to the capital which is relevant in the field. Through this also power re-
lations are expressed. At my position in the field I encounter the world from this
very standpoint. Nobody can have a Godeye’s view. Standing at my social posi-
tion I repeatedly experience similar situations: as a researcher I repeatedly come
across situations in which I discuss with so-called experts. These repeating experi-
ences, which are based on situations which vary but have some common charac-
teristics, form my habitus. The concept habitus refers to a system of preferences,
perceptions and practices which shape and channel how we go through the world.
How can we apply this approach to the day with Julian? The student union in
which Julian worked was a social field in which a kind of capital was decisive.
The position of Julian within the field, his access to capital and his relative power,
influenced, rather than determined, his practices. His position let him repeatedly
experience similar situations, which formed his habitus. This, along with his rela-
tive position, shaped the way Julian used capital, acted and perceived the world.
Let me explain the relation of field to habitus and its implications for agents and
for questioning Ecological Modernisation practices in depth.
Fundamental to an understanding of Bourdieu (1989, p. 15) is his “intention
[...] to overcome” the opposition between objective and subjective structures
which “stand in dialectical relationship” (1988, p. 782). The objective can influ-
ence people independent of their consciousness and will. An example of objective
structures would be the upward mobility of peasant women through marriage in
Béarn, Bourdieu’s childhood village in southwestern France, in the 1960s (2004,
p. 589). Subjective structures are those through which we perceive the world and
make sense of it, e.g. the dualisms black/white, female/male. He puts forward that
to understand actors we need to grasp them in terms of both kinds of structure.
Thus, the social fields which we move in comprise both objective reality as well
as agents’ perception of it.
Such a social field can be imagined like a game. The players know the rules;
they take them and what is at stake for-granted. Only those with the characteristics
(i.e. access, knowledge of rules, etc.) can participate in the game, be an agent of
the field, try to win what is at stake. Rather than talking about interest, Bourdieu
uses the concept illusio to refer to such an attitude of an agent to the game in
which the agent is trapped and lost. This happens when the stake is important to
the agent and is not questioned. Bourdieu uses the concept of capital to refer to
what is at stake. The capital of a field allows the player to exercise significant in-
26 I recognise, of course, that social positions are always contested and changing: position-
ing is an ongoing process.
294 Ingmar Lippert
fluence in the field. Capital is anything which allows such an influence. Therefore
players compete over all kinds of capital. Thus, the field structure can be de-
scribed in terms of the distribution of capital, which refers to the same as the rela-
tions between players. Therefore, Bourdieu constructs fields as independent from
individual access to capital: as long as the distribution of capital has effects on us,
we are part of the field. If a capital is no longer effective, we are in a different
field. Within the field, the capital lends power to the agent, over rules and regu-
larities, over material and incorporated means of (re-) production. Hence, a field is
much more dynamic than a game: Based on some, but never a complete and ob-
jective27, form of understanding their position players can try to increase their
capital as well as to alter the rules or to change the boundaries (2006, p. 129).
These moves can be actualised, e.g. by introducing access barriers like certificates,
or incorporating others with a different set of capital such that one’s relative posi-
tion is changed. To describe agents we need to understand their position relative to
those of others, i.e. to describe the relations between agents who show the struc-
ture of the field. How would such a field look in Julian’s case?
From my ethnographic field notes it is possible to draw together the field
‘work’. Some of the effective forms of capital in it were: (a) institutionalised hier-
archy (i.e. the boss could order Julian around), (b) means for getting the work
done (this included material means, like a computer, as well as Julian’s motiva-
tion) and (c) constructions of the raison d’être of work (the student union paid
Julian as an environmental expert who, therefore, had some power to define what
the work was about). Thus, several forms of capital were effective in this field,
which implies that there were complex and multiple relations between the posi-
tions. These capitals were somehow distributed. Julian had some control, his boss
had control and the environmental discourse had significant effects as well. At
each position in the field, actors had different access to capital and hence devel-
oped a different habitus, specific to the position.
While the field is constructed through objective relations the agents experience
it subjectively. The habitus mediates the objective with the subjective. Usually we
meet situations which are normal to us, which shapes our perceptions and our
practices. By experiencing situations which are alike, and usually they are because
of our relative position in the social field, we repeat the experiences, repeat using
the same categories successfully, again and again. Under this condition what were
singular perceptions and rational practices become a scheme of dealing with the
world. This sense is durable and can be conveyed even over generations. With
this, the habitus enables us to deal with situations and is actualised situationally.
Thus it is a system of potentialities and virtualities. What happens in a situation is
not predictable; while most experiences are repeating and thus being strengthened,
we can also experience new and different situations. Through learning and reflect-
ing the habitus changes. Thus, it is an open and historical product at the same
time. “It is durable but not eternal!” (Bourdieu)28 Thus, our habitus is contingent.
27 Thus, for Bourdieu so-called rational choice or a rational actor does not exist (Bourdieu
1988, p. 782).
28 In: Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992, p. 133)
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 295
Reflexivity allows the distancing of oneself from habitus. Habitus is most con-
straining when the actor is not acting consciously29. Enlightening reflexivity can
thus help to change how one is influenced by dispositions. This means that
Bourdieu conceptualises action as neither mechanistic reaction nor deliberate, free
and rationally planned moves. The field influences our moves and at the same
time we influence the field. An actor can emancipate themselves through reflec-
tion and changing their practices. Nevertheless, this subjective acting is societal
and therefore unlikely to easily change.
Relevant to the patterning of our perception, then, is Bourdieu’s idea that the
field configures the habitus. The habitus then, helps to understand and create the
field as a meaningful world in which investing is worthwhile. The world is shaped
by human actors and thus, the social world exists both as habitus and field as well
as in things, bodies and minds both within and external of actors. The social world
becomes part of the actor and produces the categories which the actor uses to un-
derstand the world and therefore the world seems self-evident to the actor. This is
relevant in two respects: First, all interactions are also power-relations and if
power-relations are not recognised we will be unconscious accomplices in actual-
ising theses relations. Second, if our perception of the world is never all encom-
passing but relative to our position, which makes us take at least parts of the world
as self-evident – a doxic stance, then one cannot speak of the actor as using strate-
gies referring to purely intentionally and rationally acting. Bourdieu uses the con-
cept ‘strategy’ to refer to practice which makes sense, thus is reasonable or ra-
tional, in certain constellations of the field30. Habitus explains why people are not
necessarily stupid although they do not make conscious plans all the time. The
habitus is a conditioning to deal with the situations which the agent is likely to
meet. The concept helps to explain why dispositions/tastes are so durable.
To illustrate, let us visit Julian’s work place, get an idea about what he was do-
ing and how he talked about his work: In the beginning he told me about a meet-
ing he would have later the day, “[t]he rest of the time [he] would be phoning and
responding to emails”31. And in fact, he called a number of actors, looked up con-
tact information on his computer (e.g. visiting a governmental website). Several
times he got in touch with authorities. One time he let an official know that his
“job is contingent on having ‘these things in place’32”. In this situation he referred
to the environmental management system of the university.
29 This implies that actors can act more or less consciously. The less conscious an actor is
of her actions, contexts, her habitus and the field structure, the more grip the habitus has
on her (acts).
30 Some might wonder how Bourdieu conceptualises reason. For him, the economy of prac-
tices relates to any kinds of ends and functions. Practices can serve these functions or
meet these ends without being consciously reasoned; nevertheless they can be reason-
31 From a fieldnote
32 Quote from Julian
296 Ingmar Lippert
Overall, we find that Julian took things for-granted, he followed routines and one
can find patterns of how he perceived the world. Some of his routine activities
were as follows: he perceived the world much through the computer and used it to
organise information; he had to rely heavily on authorities for his work and
seemed to take this for-granted; and furthermore, he perceived it as necessary to
do the recycling of the student union offices and he carried it out routinely, al-
though he did not enjoy doing it. This means, doing recycling (whatever this
means, a care for the environment or just getting the job done) was more reason-
able for him than not doing it. As already pointed out, communicating was of high
importance to him. He communicated a lot, using all kinds of technologies. In
terms of his work’s content, his work place organisation included several items
which carried messages like “making business sense of climate change” and an
environment & money leaflet. As it was his work place organisation, these items
could be interpreted to express content which he took-for-granted to be relevant.
In terms of schemes of perception it was striking that he interpreted it as worrying
when a communication partner forgot his name: “Adam. Why is she calling me
Adam? That’s a bit worrying”33. He had the perception that people avoided him
and that he needed to use force to make people actually interact with him. Listen
to this: “people are avoiding you”, “you have only a certain time chasing peo-
ple”, “force him [the person he is calling] to have an appointment with me”34.
With Bourdieu, Julian’s perceptions and motivation can be considered part of his
habitus. The latter makes much sense in terms of Julian’s position in the field: he
was working in an environmental job with little in the way of job requirements.
Much competition existed for such jobs. Hence, if he was not motivated and did
not sustain his motivation it was likely that he would have been replaced. At the
same time, fitting to his position in an ‘unpolitical’ context35 was his acceptance of
mainstream propaganda on environmental issues (like the “business sense of cli-
mate change”)36. To play the game of Ecological Modernisation well it was
probably more than just helpful to be convinced of its value and being committed
allows a seemingly strong position in the field. His habitus was to see small insti-
tutional improvements of ‘greening’ as significant successes and for this reason he
contributed pragmatically his own resources to his work – sometimes even beyond
job requirements and at other times against his liking.
To sum up, while thinking with Bourdieu emerges as an apt method of situating
an environmental manager in terms of her habitus it remains to be discussed in
more depth how technology and materiality can influence the actor.
33 Quote
35 Officially, his job was executive, rather than political. The student union had an officer
who was responsible for environmental politics.
36 If he had ethical/political problems with this message it seems it would have been easily
possible for him to dispose it: taking away a sticker, commenting it, hiding it.
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 297
22.4 Discussion: Limits to Manageability in a Hybrid Field
Bourdieu (1981, p. 307) urges us to disclose how powerful agents conceal the
struggles within their field. As alluded to above, such a stance implies breaking
with sticky notions of the everyday and questioning how we could construct our
object usefully. Let us take a closer look at whether or not the suggested epistemo-
logical break can be used for analysing glass recycling. To do this, let us return to
Figure 22.1. If we look at it we find the central item ‘glass waste’. While Bourdieu
does not emphasise the role of material items, Actor-network theory renders them
as potentially decisive actants. For our theory to be actually useful for conceptual-
ising environmental management it is doubtless relevant to discuss how a
Bourdieusian approach can account for technology and materials which influence
social action.
Sterne (2003) focuses on this very issue. He suggests that technology is part of
the habitus, i.e., part of the way we move, a socially organised form of movement.
Reading Sterne implies a move towards conceptualising technology relationally.
What does this mean? In the relational logic things exist relative to each other
rather than having absolute characteristics. Schinkel (2003, pp. 78-79) sees this
logic as having critical potential: Bourdieu’s “analyses are unmasking and demy-
thologizing. This is a direct consequence of his anti-essentialism”37. If one takes
this anti-substantialist, non-naturalising stance one contradicts those who believe
in the essence of things and their natural meanings. The non-naturalising stance
assumes that one deconstructs these meanings as ideology/ignorance. Using such a
relationalist approach Sterne suggests:
“Technologies are socially shaped along with their meanings, functions, and domains
and use. Thus, they cannot come into existence simply to fill a pre-existing role, since
the role itself is co-created with the technology by its makers and users. More impor-
tantly, this role is not a static function but something that can change over time for
groups of people.” (2003, p. 373)
This moves Sterne to view technologies as points at which practices crystallise.
“They are structured by human practices so that they may in turn structure human prac-
tices. They embody in physical form particular dispositions and tendencies – particular
ways of doing things.” (ibid., p. 377)
Thus, using Bourdieu, one can construe technology as ontologically non-special.
Therefore I suggest conceptualising our habitat as hybrid. It is both given and so-
cially constructed, technologically and textually. Sterne (2003, p. 386) brings out
“technologies (as) just particularly visible sets of crystallised subsets of practices,
positions and dispositions in the habitus. They are merely one sort of ‘sedimented
This hybridisation take on Bourdieu and how to use his work for analysing
technologies, provides the ground on which to revisit Julian’s construction of a re-
cycling network. By considering technology as part of habitus, rather than some-
37 I read essentialism as a synonym of substantialism.
298 Ingmar Lippert
thing ontologically different, a new understanding of Figure 22.1 develops: we are
seeing habitus, positions, dispositions and fields. Recycling is a technology which
is habitus. Whose habitus is it? The technology, as sedimented history, is shared.
Recycling is an artefact of the social technology at which practices crystallise. The
practices which crystallise are distributed over various fields, which we can ana-
lytically differentiate, i.e., the work field of Julian, the field of the recycling busi-
ness and politics, the field of capitalism in general. If we look at what, according
to ANT, is the common obstacle-problem, glass waste, then the Bourdieusian ap-
proach opens novel perspectives: What is ‘glass waste’? How can we break with
the substantialist, sticky idea of the everyday that ‘glass waste’ is simply glass
waste? By applying the notion of habitus to it, we can construct glass waste as part
of habitus. The habitus refers to embodied schemes of perceptions and practices.
‘Glass waste’ (of a night club) is part of our practices of drinking. Agents drink
and produce ‘glass waste’; in the night club agents are disposed to drink. The
habitus generates drinking and putting the bottle somewhere. ‘Glass waste’ is
something we habitually deal with. It is sedimented history, a cultural product of
how one normally deals with empty bottles. Around the artefact ‘glass waste’
practices crystallise which are attuned to the game of drinking, to the position of
drinking in the social field ‘night club’.
What is Julian faced with and what is he doing? He is organising a recycling
technology. By organising recycling he works on the symptom, i.e., an instance of
the habitus of the drinking folk. He can ‘carry away’ as much glass as he wants
(by using the shared recycling practices which are taken-for-granted in his field)
and, yet, ‘glass waste’ will not change. To change ‘glass waste’, one needs to ap-
proach its cause, the habitus which generates practices which produce ‘glass
waste’. Of course, these practices are distributed. ‘Glass waste’ is not only part of
the drinking folk’s habitus but also of Julian’s, the re-sellers’, sellers’, producers’
and of all the other intermediaries’ habitus. Herewith it comes into view that ‘glass
waste’ was part of relations which extended from, in this case, the night club to
Julian’s office to the global sources of silicon dioxide molecules which were
needed for producing glass and to firms which encompassed world-wide cultures
of drinking as well as to all those who shared and reproduced the culture of drink-
ing. Julian was situated amongst all these relations. To approach one of them and
their relations, i.e. those who drink and put the bottle somewhere, we must not
substantialise them. Also, the everyday idea of ‘drinking folk’ is tenacious. To
tackle the ‘glass waste’ problem one would need to consider changing the fields
which stabilise a kind of habitus, which generates practices of producing ‘glass
waste’. The Bourdieusian take presents the case as a relational issue: a focus on
changing symptoms of multiple relations, as in ‘glass waste’, does not promise
changing the relations themselves.
Are then, Julian’s management practices determined through the structure of
the social field? We find that Julian creates constrains for himself and his organi-
sation through an organisational policy document on ‘environmental conduct’. By
co-designing such a document he aimed to bring about objective products at which
his desired practices would legitimately crystallise. Thus, Julian had some agency
and his practices were not totally determined. Nevertheless, whilst he designed
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 299
such constraints for his organisation others, within the organisation as well as
without, i.e. state bureaucracies and public discourses on the environment, con-
structed constrains for him. Julian was faced with many relations which affected
his work practices and his position provided little power to influence them. In our
case, the symptom ‘glass waste’ was a site at which various constraints inter-
sected; to name but a few: economic, cultural, legal and organisational. This site
was stabilised through these multiple relations and it was not easy to alter them.
Any ‘greening’ exercise will have to deal with such constraints.
Comparing this discussion with thoughts presented above makes obvious that
the construction of a recycling network is not clearly a ground for developing a
sustainable human-nature relationship. Rethinking the case – with Bourdieu, Ac-
tor-network theory as well as Ecological Modernisation Theory in mind – indi-
cates that recycling naturalises ‘glass waste’ and that this technological so-called
solution carries the taken-for-grantedness of waste and therefore processes it in a
proper EM rationality. This rationality produces a lock-in of having to have more,
rather than less, glass waste. The recycling network has to ensure sufficient glass
waste to sustain itself. However, for humans involved it seems rational in order to
ensure having sufficient waste to ensure rather more than less waste produced.
Thus, this analysis suggests that in the course of Ecological Modernisation prac-
tices, unsustainability can be sustained.
Having recognised this, we should now turn the critique to consider where
change could come from. This requires consideration of both the tendency of
change and the inert character of social order. By using Sterne's work we recog-
nised that the ‘world-making’ which Bourdieu (1989) refers to can be extended, in
that we make the world by both construing and constructing it38 – symbolically
and materially. However, this ‘we’ needs to be differentiated. The power of world-
making is unequally distributed. Some have more access to forms of capital than
others. Consider ‘glass waste’. It was part of many actors’ habitus. ‘Glass waste’
served as a crystallisation site of many habitus, i.e. of Julian’s, the recycling com-
pany’s agents’, the bottle producers’ as well as the ‘drinking folk’s’. Among these
actors the bottle producers, I assume, have most agency in shaping the social phe-
nomenon ‘glass waste’, albeit they have no monopoly in it. In a market economy
the consumer has some say and in our example the agents of the social technology
recycling can transform the phenomenon as well. Needless to say, neither the ma-
terial glass nor its constituting entities, like silicon dioxide molecules, have agency
in how they become the site of history being objectified; the real/actual aspects of
glass merely effectuate how the social can be inscribed on it (Sayer 2000); my cup
of tea has effects, rather than agency, on me writing this paper. However, the same
aspects of glass structure not only the room for configurations of habitus but also
wider fields. If glass became scarcer, it would become expensive and recycling
might be substituted by returnable bottles. Of course, a bottle and the specific fab-
rication of glass are a hybrid between the social and the natural and through them
agency can be exercised. An analysis which construes ‘glass waste’ as a given,
naturalises it.
38 Cf. Fairclough et al. 2002
300 Ingmar Lippert
The construction of a glass-recycling scheme by Julian constructed a world in
which more glass was needed, rather than less. Such symbolical and material natu-
ralising, a co-construction of the social and the natural (Irwin 2001), goes hand in
hand with drinking. The ‘glass waste’ was a site at which several habitus inter-
sected – among them drinking. “Drinks construct the world as it is” (Douglas
1987), Julian’s ‘glass waste’ presupposed drinking in bars and drinks are central to
Western European cultures. Agency can be increased as well as limited with
drinks. To illustrate: for Julian, drinks, as objectified history, allowed him to be-
come a central actor in devising a social technology. Julian’s agency was con-
strained by his culture, in which recycling had become a ritual, and at the same
time he co-constructed a culture of drinking which sustained his job. Nevertheless,
such agents have some say in – and beyond – their job. In the case provided in this
paper Julian could have easily turned the issue of ‘glass waste’ in a political prob-
lem and by that might have allowed other actors, i.e., political green agents, to
participate in interpreting and thereby shaping the issue. Thus, if a critical under-
standing of the issue is developed it is more likely that sustainable pathways will
be recognised and, hopefully, used.
22.5 Concluding Thoughts
In this paper I told a partial story about Julian Berger, who co-ordinated environ-
ment-related activities for his organisation, and visited his construction of a recy-
cling network. His story is woven into an introduction to two major bodies of so-
cial theory: Actor-network theory and Bourdieu’s thought. Together, it became
possible to problematise the Ecological Modernisation practices of Julian Berger
as well as to highlight limits of manageability. Thus, the paper shows possibilities
of how social theory can be of help in the study of environmental management.
We learned that in the course of constructing a recycling network actually a social
lock-in was created; rather than ending up with a social structure (of the recycling
network) in which reduction of waste or alternative consumption patterns became
the focus the actual network required the production of enough waste. If the pro-
duction of waste decreases more waste will be required to sustain the recycling
Furthermore, we found a variety of social implications of the network. Both
approaches, ANT and Bourdieu, stress relationality. With this emphasis we dem-
onstrated that the management practices are embedded in a variety of relations
material as well as social. The recycling network was designed to be successfully
embedded in a variety of hegemonic relations – amongst them capitalist and tech-
nological ones. This complies very well with the paradigm of Ecological Moderni-
sation which states that problems are approached by way of integrating them into
capitalist market mechanisms and finding technical solutions. The construction of
the recycling network meets these postulations. As we have shown, however, it is
precisely the stabilisation of the material and social relations which renders the
network a problem. Hence, the story of Julian Berger illustrates how the set-up of
22 Sustaining Waste – Sociological Perspectives on Recycling a Hybrid Object 301
a recycling network can lock a social network into a trajectory of ‘unsustainabil-
ity’ (Blühdorn and Welsh 2007).
To sum up: recycling naturalises, rather than reduces, ‘glass waste’. That is to
say, it stabilises the symptom of multiple relations which go hand in hand with di-
verse problems: environmental destruction (using up more resources) and eco-
nomic exploitation (through capitalist relations). Both these problems are silenced
through the naturalisation of ‘glass waste’. This should provoke further thought.
Of course, it can be seen as a mishap that we live in a contradictory world in
which the theoretical insights about ‘glass waste’ cannot be easily put into practice
and I recognise that the recycling practices are interlocked with wider environ-
mental policies and culture. The agency to change recycling is distributed within
and among social fields. Various agents, including Julian Berger, take part in
shaping the issue. I identified ‘glass waste’ as a site at which history has been and
is being objectified. Therefore, an analysis of (glass) waste would see the wasted
objects as social. To deal with them, solutions are needed which take into account
the historical, social and political dimensions. These dimensions are integral,
rather than external, to the objects. Thus, waste is socionatural – attention to the
waste problem requires including, not merely adding, critical takes on the society
of which waste is part of.
What needs doing now – a task for further research as well as for practical ex-
periments by environmental managers – is to investigate how agents can counter
the unsustainable trajectory of Western capitalist consumerism and production.
Such questioning should aim at a negation of practices which produce undesired
social and ecological effects. This focus on practices goes beyond only consider-
ing ideas39. To turn this conclusion into the positive and being inspired by Pepper
(2005), I propose that practitioners engage with experiments to change the social
situations which hitherto resulted in more, rather than less, waste (Krivtsov et al.
2004). For such an aim they would surely find as partners researchers and other
social agents who are aware of social and ecological justice and the problems with
unsustainable ecological modernisation practices.
22.6 Postscript
Four years afterwards, Julian provided a friendly comment on the preceding
analysis40. He stressed the meanings his practices had at that time. His prime aim
was one of “instituting a social norm” of “good housekeeping” within the organi-
sation. This was supposed to induce a sense which would lead “to further recy-
cling of other waste streams”. He assured the reader that implementing the recy-
cling scheme did not increase the amount of waste. As a trickle down effect, Julian
39 Practices have to change and the change of ideas might be only a tiny step of the path to
that. In that respect see Howard-Grenville (2005, p. 573) who discusses the ideas which
environmental managers hold and how they seem to be stable.
40 The quotes in this part are sourced from his written comments on this article.
302 Ingmar Lippert
hoped that recycling would “open doors to new commercial opportunities which
would constitute green jobs rather than the norm which is to base useful work on
extractive highly damaging industries”.
Knowledge is produced in networks. First of all, I am much obliged to Julian Ber-
ger for welcoming me in his working environment. I am especially grateful to
Brian Wynne for supervising me during the production of the original paper con-
cerning this case. Furthermore I thank my PhD supervisor Christoph Lau for en-
couraging me to continue to work on the case and the research fellows of the Insti-
tute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society (IAS-STS) as well
as the participants of the workshop Environmental Management: More of the
Same or Time for Change? – Confronting the Manageability Paradigm (at Bran-
denburg University of Technology, January, 11-13, 2008) for providing feedback
to earlier versions of this paper. Specifically, Helen Jackson, Torsten Wöllmann,
Franz Martin Krause and Hannah Strauss provided me with valuable comments.
Robert Atkinson provided helped to translate this paper into a more accessible
language for scholars of environmental management. I gratefully acknowledge the
funding by the German National Academic Foundation, Hans-Böckler-Foundation
as well as IAS-STS for facilitating my studies.
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... While the state environmental managers fail to effectively govern the factory 's environmental conduct, however, the business actors are able to take the initiative and govern within the public environmental management office, ensuring that no pollution limits are defined or enforced which would threaten business-as-usual. Such a pattern of parallel directions of (non-)effective governance within environmental management is paralleled by this case on waste management: Lippert (2010, 2011e) shows how a recycling arrangement is able to govern the processing of waste, while the environmental manager is governed by the convention that the waste's existence in itself cannot be questioned . In effect, environmental management interventions may thus result in naturalisations of environmentally detrimental assemblages . ...
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In a recent instantiation by Bruno Latour of how STS can engage with matters of concern, he conceptualised a changing relationship by humans with earth. For Latour, scientists' notion ‘anthropocene’ illustrates that humans accept that their industrial activities are not merely causing some surface environmental problems but that they establish a geological force. He proposes: inside each of us, we have to struggle for properly engaging with Gaia (Lovelock). Questioning his individualist take, this paper reviews STS studies on how humans and societies enact the imagery of ‘being able to manage’ (environments). We find conflict. I argue, studying the doing of so-called environmental management shows that by this activity environments are not merely known, but also enacted. This move implies that competing of enactments of the subjection of environments to management are possible. Consequently, the performative qualities of environmental management emerge as a fundamentally politically and ethically relevant object of study.
“We must explain why science — our surest example of sound knowledge — progresses as it does, and we must first find out how in fact it does progress” (Kuhn, 1970, p. 20). Many answers have been proposed to these two questions. In choosing to organize this chapter in terms of different models of scientific development, I have deliberately sought to emphasize the collective character of work in science studies. My aim is to avoid the repetitive and controversial step of taking a few selected books by a number of great authors — the science studies canon — as the point of departure. To be sure, my way of presenting the arguments has its drawbacks. For instance, the debates that have driven the field as it has grown do not come into focus. However, the theoretical structure of arguments and choices is made clearer, as is the fact that analysts are always struggling with a series of different dimensions. It is thus impossible to give a definition of, for example, the nature of scientific activity, without at the same time suggesting a certain interpretation of the overall dynamics of development and establishing the identity of the actors involved. Even the most philosophical works imply a conception of the social organization of science, and reciprocally the purest sociological analyses assume views of the nature of scientific knowledge.
This paper outlines a new approach to the study of power, that of the sociology of translation. Starting from three principles, those of agnosticism, generalised symmetry and free association, the paper describes a scientigc and economic controversy about the causes for the decline in the population of scallops in St. Brieuc Bay and the attempts by three marine biologists to develop a conservation strategy for that population. Four "moments" of translation are discerned in the attempts by these researchers to impose themselves and their degnition of the situation on others: Z) problematization-the researchers sought to become indispensable to other actors in the drama by degning the nature and the problems of the latter and then suggesting that these would be resolved if the actors negotiated the "obligatory passage point" of the researchers' program of investigation; G) interessemen- A series of processes by which the researchers sought to lock the other actors into the roles that had been proposed for them in that program; 3) enrolment- A set of strategies in which the researchers sought to degne and interrelate the various roles they had allocated to others; 4) mobilization- A set of methods used by the researchers to ensure that supposed spokesmen for various relevant collectivities were properly able to represent those collectivities and not betrayed by the latter. In conclusion, it is noted that translation is a process, never a completed accomplishment, and it may (as in the empirical case considered) fail.
Everywhere anarchism is on the upswing as a political philosophy—everywhere, that is, except the academy. Anarchists repeatedly appeal to anthropologists for ideas about how society might be reorganized on a more egalitarian, less alienating basis. Anthropologists, terrified of being accused of romanticism, respond with silence . . . . But what if they didn't? This pamphlet ponders what that response would be, and explores the implications of linking anthropology to anarchism. Here, David Graeber invites readers to imagine this discipline that currently only exists in the realm of possibility: anarchist anthropology.