Exploring ‘pro-environmental’ actions through discarded materials in the home

Guy M Robinson, Mark Riley, Alan Metcalfe, Stewart W Barr, Terry L Tudor

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapter


The household is a crucial focus of both waste and wider environmental policy, being seen as a central site of socio -economic-environmental change, a space in which people may perform their civic responsibilities and where individual and wider imperatives are brought together. Yet policy makers have shown limited appreciation and understanding of what happens inside the home. So in contemporary waste policy, for example, households remain a ‘closed entity’ in which everyday routines and practices remain hidden. Increasingly, though, it is acknowledged by social scientists that the lived experiences of environmental and waste management in the home are significant issues requiring further study, but how we might go about trying to study them is proving a challenging question. Conventional pro-environmental behaviour research has often tended to study behaviours in ways abstracted from the social contexts in which these take place. This has prompted recent research involving repeat in-depth interviews with householders and more ethnographic approaches, the use of reflexive diaries and narrative methodologies. Curiously, however, there has been little research considering environmental management(s) in the home which has focussed on waste itself. This paper seeks to add to the discussion, by focusing on everyday processes within households, using a qualitative approach of ‘getting in the bin’ of households - that is, an interview approach which takes respondents’ discarded waste as a starting point from which we ask them to discuss the lived experience(s) and activities of everyday life. More broadly by developing insights from what has been termed a ‘realist governmentality’ perspective the paper seeks to offer a more nuanced and finely grained analysis of governing in situ, exploring the extent to which governmental ambitions in relation to waste are accommodated, resisted or [re]worked at the household level. The paper draws illustratively on case studies from a Leverhulme-funded research project based in Kingston-Upon-Thames, an outer London borough in the UK. The approach used a focus on the contents of household waste bins to develop a narrative approach driven by householders centred on stories about pro-environmental practice. The paper will deal with three elements of the research approach: texturing narratives of waste, generating narratives of recycling in practice, and producing narratives of understanding. The outcome is development of a more thoroughgoing understanding of how processes within the home shape waste governance, moving beyond treating the home as a closed entity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnmaking Waste 2015 Conference Proceedings
Place of PublicationUniversity of Adelaide
PublisherUniversity of Adelaide
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)978-0-9943360-7-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015


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