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

Lane, R. and Watson, M. (2012) The stewardship of things: Property and responsibility in the management of manufactured goods. Geoforum, 43 (6). pp. 1254-1265. ISSN 0016-7185


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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.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2012 Elsevier. This is an author produced version of a paper accepted for publication in Geoforum. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy
Keywords: reuse; waste; stewardship; sustainability
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > Department of Geography (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Dr Matt Watson
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2012 08:58
Last Modified: 14 May 2014 08:53
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.03.012
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/74553

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