A sociomaterial conceptualization of flows in industrial ecology
Journal article, 2021

A major starting point in industrial ecology (IE) is that reaching ecological sustainability requires understanding relations between human actions and material (tangible) flows. IE studies have enabled assessments of different technical and sociotechnical configurations but only to a limited degree provided concepts that support the design of interventions for industrial ecologies. We contribute by proposing a sociomaterial flow approach, here applied to life cycle thinking. After problematizing some common concepts in IE, the key concepts, a procedure, and some applied variants of the proposed sociomaterial approach are presented. The approach is theoretically grounded in related sociomaterial research. This body of theories underpins our conceptualization of how flows in, for example, a product life cycle can be related to nets of human actions within one rather than several analytical frames. The sociomaterial interaction point (SMIP) is a key concept in our approach for the sociomaterial connection between material flows and actor networks. A SMIP can be described as the interactions where humans come closest to the flows. The conceptualization of the methodology provides a framework for exploring actor and action networks shaping material flows and a basis for a relational analysis of governance, organization, and management of the flows in industrial ecologies. A sociomaterial approach to flow studies can therefore help in designing more concrete sustainability interventions in industrial ecologies.

material flows


industrial ecology

philosophy of science




Henrikke Baumann

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Mathias Lindkvist

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Journal of Industrial Ecology

1088-1980 (ISSN) 1530-9290 (eISSN)

Vol. In Press

Subject Categories

Other Mechanical Engineering

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Other Engineering and Technologies not elsewhere specified



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