This post will be updated every time my research questions have changed. Current version: January 2021, following my successful Annual Progression review.
Research Question 1 (RQ1): What prevents more widespread reuse of discarded materials in contemporary cities?
To address RQ1, I will investigate how citizens evaluate and decide - at an individual/household scale - what to do with such objects. A specific focus will be applied on how their maintenance, repair, customizations and transformations happen in private, community and public spaces. I will also explore the individual, cultural and material conditions impacting the decision whether or not to reuse objects. Finally, I intend to understand how those activities may tie in with municipal waste management - and how much are citizens aware of the proper destination of each kind of material.
Research Question 2 (RQ2): What are the different actors - formal and informal - involved in reusing material objects at a city scale and how do they operate?
In order to face RQ2, I will seek to understand the similarities and differences between repair shops, scrap stores, charity shops, community repair projects, zero waste initiatives and other similar ones. I am interested in learning whether the people involved in these activities see themselves and their organisations as part of a wider field of urban reuse of materials. In particular, I will investigate how different actors assess the potential value of particular materials. Additionally, I’ll consider the kinds of transformations - whether physical or symbolic - they apply to each material to actualize the potential value it holds.
Research Question 3 (RQ3): what current and future digital technologies might help in making local societies reuse a higher proportion of materials that are otherwise discarded?
I will approach RQ3 by considering the possible uses of the Internet of Things - sensors, connected devices, real-time access to trusted databases, among other digital developments - to a) assess the potential value of discarded objects; b) repair and repurpose those objects; c) make those materials reach people or organisations that can put them to good use. I’ll be interested in interrogating what role should the local authority/municipality play in using technologies to encourage the reuse of materials - in terms for instance of regulations, facilities, taxation, education, procurement or others. Furthermore, I’m interested in looking at the implications of reusing materials with the aid of technologies vis-a-vis concerns about privacy, security and health.
My investigation topic is the smart city. I am directing my attention in particular to the reuse of materials in cities and towns through initiatives aimed at and run by local actors. It is a critical take to the way waste management is often implemented by local governments. Instead of increasing the efficiency of waste collection and disposal (usually towards recycling, incineration or landfills), I expect to generate ideas that contribute to avoid as much as possible the very need to manage waste on the first time.
In other words, I am proposing the prevention of waste, or its avoidance, through repair and repurposing. The research entails discussions about the collective ownership, as well as local sovereignty, over discarded or unwanted materials.