A sustainable home? Reconceptualizing home in a low-impact society
Doctoral thesis, 2016
This thesis addresses the environmental and socio-economic impact of modern ways of living, focusing on home-related concepts and practices for transitions to a less environmentally harmful and more socially just society. Exploring diverse conceptualizations of a sustainable home, the aim is to broaden discourses on less resource-intensive ways of living and residing.
Employing a primarily qualitative and explorative research approach, the thesis presents three empirical studies on how sustainability in housing and concepts of home are perceived among different actors: 1) developers and architects involved in a new “green” urban development; 2) “ordinary” residents in a tenant-owned multi-family housing association; and 3) “home-front transitioners” engaging in low-impact practices. The findings highlight the complexity of approaching a sustainable housing development. On one hand, the empirical insights reveal structural lock-ins in mainstream market-led development, with a techno-centered view of sustainability, conventional understandings of residents’ preferences and household configurations, and lack of competence regarding social dimensions. On the other hand, there appears to be a gap between a reported interest among residents in living in less resource-intensive ways (including living smaller, simpler, or more collaboratively), and relevant alternatives within the current housing market.
Attempting to find ways of going beyond these unilateral interpretations and lock-ins, the thesis suggests conceptualizing home as a node, framing understandings of home and everyday practices as a starting point for transitions to a low-impact society, rather than seeing the dwelling as an object upon or in which sustainable technologies and solutions can be placed. This is further linked to exploring agency in and of the home, acknowledging residents as active agents rather than “end-users” or consumers.
In conclusion, the thesis emphasizes the need to problematize contemporary discourses on sustainability in housing. It makes a case for the need to rethink how we view home in relation to a radically reduced resource intensity, proposing a reconceptualization of home in transitions to a low-impact society.