The costs of public involvement Everyday devices of carbon accounting and the materialization of participation

Marres, Noortje. 2011. The costs of public involvement Everyday devices of carbon accounting and the materialization of participation. Economy and Society, 40(4), pp. 510-533. [Article]


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This paper seeks to contribute to the development of device-centred perspectives on public participation through an analysis of everyday technologies of carbon accounting. Such instruments are currently put forward, in the UK and elsewhere, as a way of locating environmental engagement in everyday practices, such as cooking and heating. The paper considers whether and how these technologies can be said to ‘materialise’ public participation. It argues that the materialisation of
engagement entails a particular codification of it: as participation is located in everyday material practice, it comes to be defined in terms of its doability and the investment of effort. Material participation, then, does not just refer to its mediation by things: it involves the deployment of specific legitimatory tropes associated with liberal theories of citizenship and the domestication of technology, in particular the notion that the engagement of everyday subjects requires things to be ‘made easy’ (Pateman, 1989; Schwartz Cowan, 1983). To make sense of this confluence of political and technological ideals, the paper takes up the notion of ‘co-articulation’ (Callon, 2009). A distinctive feature of the everyday devices of accounting under consideration here, I argue, is their ability to ‘co-articulate’ participation with other registers: those of innovation and economy. In this respect, the spaces of participation organised with the aid of these technologies can be qualified as spaces of ‘multi-valent’ action. Different carbon accounting devices do this, however, in different ways, and this has consequences for how we understand the wider normative implications of the ‘materialisation’ of environmental participation. In some cases, materialisation entails the minimisation of social, material and political changes, while in others it enables the exploration and amplification of precisely these modes of change.

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October 2011Published

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31 Oct 2011 14:20

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29 Apr 2020 15:31

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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