The purpose of this paper is to adopt posthumanist perspectives on waste as traces of life to investigate how the alternative heritage work of redesigners transforms discarded building materials into reuse interior designs. It combines recent research on waste, shifting focus from representational and symbolic aspects to its material and indexical relations to human life, with critical perspectives emphasising heritage as encompassing different and ambiguous ways of engaging with material transformation over time.Design/methodology/approachAnthropological fieldwork involving participant observation was conducted over six months to closely examine the entanglement between redesigners and reuse materials in interior design work.FindingsThe sensory ethnographic approach reveals how materials are approached as unfolding processes rather than closed objects. Tracing how redesigners capitalise on the ambiguity of traces of life in building materials, the paper shows how uncertainty and risk are inevitable companions when working with reuse. To rehabilitate used things, and reassociate with materials classified as waste or heritage, means following their trajectories of becoming and responding to their signs of life. While involving important benefits, this often leads to the inconvenient and risky mess characteristic of an interconnected and entangled multispecies world.Originality/valueEthnographic analyses of reuse design are few. In particular, there is a lack of studies informed by posthumanist theories recognising the social and ecological embeddedness and mutual entanglement of humans and materials. By studying practices for extending the lifespan of salvaged materials external to formal heritage management this paper contributes with perspectives to revitalise heritage practices, while highlighting the neglect of socio-historic values of materials within circular economy.
Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 15, 2020
Keywords: Waste; Heritage; Interior design; Reuse; Building materials; Posthuman anthropology