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.

Outdated, September 2020 version:

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.

Research questions

  • Can waste be considered an indicator of a city's health? In that sense, to what extent should it be hidden from public view or exposed widely?
  • In what ways can digital technologies be used to encourage the reuse of materials in urban contexts? Can IoT be used to help in assessing the value of discarded objects, repairing and repurposing them or making them reach people or organisations that can put them to good use?
  • What would be the implications of reusing materials with the aid of technologies vis-a-vis concerns of privacy, security and health?
  • What is the role of local governments in promoting waste prevention and how can that be embedded in smart city projects?
  • What do digital technologies have to offer in terms of promoting the social handling of second-hand materials? How to relate that to concepts of commons-based governance, social stewardship, multi-stakeholder cooperativism and circular economy?

See also

Previous Post Next Post