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Toward Social Material Flow Analysis: On the Usefulness of Boundary Objects in Urban Mining Research
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Environmental Technology and Management. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
2015 (English)In: Journal of Industrial Ecology, ISSN 1088-1980, E-ISSN 1530-9290, Vol. 19, no 5, 742-752 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Material flow analysis (MFA) has been an effective tool to identify the scale of physical activity, the allocation of materials across economic sectors for different purposes, and to identify inefficiencies in production systems or in urban contexts. However, MFA relies on ignoring the social drivers of those flows to be able to perform its calculations. In many cases therefore, it remains detached from the processes (e.g., urban) that underpin them. This becomes a problem when the purpose of research is to inform the design of detailed recycling schemes, for which micro-level practice knowledge on how material flows are mediated by human agency is needed. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how a particular social science approach, namely, infrastructure studies (IS), can be combined with MFA to enhance the latters potential as a decision support tool. To achieve a successful combination between IS and MFA, the object of inquiry must be carefully defined to function as a boundary object, which allows academic approaches to work together without the need for consensus. This approach is illustrated with a case study example in urban mining research that assesses the hibernating stock of subsurface urban infrastructure in Norrkoping, Sweden. It provides an example of how a well-calibrated MFA and a complementary social science approach can provide hands-on advice for private as well as public actors in a local and place-specific context. The article aims to advance the integration of social science and the study of the physical economy to contribute to the emerging field of social industrial ecology.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. Vol. 19, no 5, 742-752 p.
Keyword [en]
boundary objects; hibernating stocks; infrastructure; material flow analysis (MFA); science; technology and society (STS); urban mining
National Category
Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-122664DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12361ISI: 000363267800006OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-122664DiVA: diva2:871703
Note

Funding Agencies|Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning, FORMAS; Swedish Innovation Agency, VINNOVA

Available from: 2015-11-16 Created: 2015-11-13 Last updated: 2016-03-09
In thesis
1. The Urk World: Hibernating Infrastructures and the Quest for Urban Mining
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Urk World: Hibernating Infrastructures and the Quest for Urban Mining
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Urkarnas Värld : Infrastrukturer i dvala och staden som resursbas
Abstract [en]

This PhD thesis concerns urban mining, an umbrella term for different recycling strategies aimed to recover materials from the built environment. More specifically, it focuses on hibernating urban infrastructures, that is: cables and pipes that have been left behind in their subsurface location after they were disconnected. I term this subsurface urban realm of system rejects the “Urk World”. “Urk” is short for “urkopplad”, the Swedish word for “disconnected”, an abbreviation often found on old infrastructure maps denoting discarded system parts. Since urks contain high concentrations of copper, my normative stance is that the Urk World should be “mined” as a contribution towards diminishing the persistently wasteful handling of mineral resources in society.

The thesis has three focus areas. The first of these discusses how the Urk World has emerged, that is: how the creation of urks is sustained in sociotechnical processes related to infrastructure’s provision. The second concerns the potential of urk mining, how much copper the Urk World contains, where these quantities are located and by which implications they could be recovered. The third focus area is devoted to the politics of urks, and is concerned with the political embeddedness of infrastructure and where politics might intervene for the sake of increased urk recovery.

Five papers complete the thesis. The first paper investigates how much copper, aluminium and steel there is in the Urk World of the Swedish city of Norrköping, and how these quantities are spatially dispersed in the urban environment. The second paper is based on interviews with system owners and repair crews, and investigates how urks come into existence in relation to three different infrastructural processes: maintenance, larger installation projects and shutdown. The third paper describes how environmental systems analysis can be beneficially coupled with theories and methods from the social sciences to create knowledge useful to aid the development of urk recycling schemes. The fourth article makes use of the inherent ambiguities of urks to investigate a spectrum of locations where politics aimed for increased urk recovery can intervene as well as what is at stake there. The fifth and final paper investigates urks in Linköping’s power grid in spatial and weight terms, and analyses the implications of urk recovery from several different viewpoints.

In overall terms, the major contribution of the thesis is how it improves the knowledge of societal stocks of materials, thereby giving an increased recognition of the built environment as a resource base. In overall scientific terms, it sets an example of how a coherent interdisciplinary research design can provide knowledge useful for the implementation of urk recycling schemes as well as for political decision–making for increased urk recovery.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2015. 99 p.
Series
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1720
Keyword
urban mining; infrastructure; material flow analysis; hibernating stocks; copper
National Category
Social Sciences Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-122758 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-122758 (DOI)978–91–7685–907–0 (print) (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-12-11, ACAS, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Swedish Research Council FormasVINNOVA
Available from: 2015-11-20 Created: 2015-11-20 Last updated: 2015-11-20Bibliographically approved

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