Putting consumers to work

It has become common for households in the UK (and many other parts of the world) to sort their waste for recycling. This can involve sorting plastics, cardboard and glass from one another, washing and squashing them, and placing them out for collection in different containers on different days of the week or it can involve putting all mixed recyclables into one bag/bin to be collected alongside your black bag of rubbish. But have you ever thought about what happens next? Does it matter how much/how well you sort your recycling? Or, if you wash it? Who collects the recyclable materials and who profits from our efforts? These questions will be addressed in my paper, drawing on original research with waste management experts and households in England. I will be arguing that by recycling your waste, you are performing an important job that has implications for how the overall process of waste management is conducted.

If you have studied DD206 ‘The Uses of Social Science’, you will have learnt that social scientists use the concept ‘division of labour’ to understand the distribution and organisation of work in society. In this paper, I will introduce you to a groundbreaking development of this concept that brings the work we all regularly do as consumers (think also of supermarket self-checkouts and self-assembly furniture) into the picture

Presentation time: 
Tuesday, 1 July, 2014 - 15:00
Presenter(s): 

Katy Wheeler

Katy Wheeler is a sociologist with interests in sustainable consumption and moral economies. She has written on the subject of Fairtrade and, in particular, the growth of the Fairtrade Towns' movement in the UK and beyond. She joined the OU in October 2013 after working on a European Research Council-funded project at Essex University exploring the work of consumers within societal divisions of labour.