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Unsticky stuff: Affective energies of letting go in circular economies

Conference contribution
Authors Anna Bohlin
Published in AAA 116th Annual Meeting, Washington, Anthropology Matters!
Publication year 2017
Published at School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology
Language en
Keywords Reuse, second-hand, affect, sustainable consumption, consumerism
Subject categories Social Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Other Humanities not elsewhere specified


Among urban, environmentally conscious Swedes, it is common to express intense affection and even love for items found in thrift stores and second-hand markets. Echoing political discourse and current interest in orientations towards objects informed by ethical relations of care, such sentiments foreground thick and long-lasting affective connections. Yet, such expressions of care are articulated against actual practices, less often spoken about, that also form part of reuse subjectivity within circular economies: the discarding and passing on of things that had just previously been loved. This paper examines the affective energies involved in such divesting, paying particular attention to how the materials of objects intersect with subjectivities of reuse. It builds on the insight that similar to objects, which acquire social and cultural biographies as they shift between contexts and regimes of value (Appadurai 1986, Kopytoff 1986), materials are entangled in shifting constellations of regulation, aesthetics and desire. They are far from ‘raw’, but reflect and embody the social relations and values of the time they were extracted or created (Drazin and Küchler 2015). Based on fieldwork in Swedish urban households and thrift shops in 2016 and 2017, the paper explores the ‘liveliness’ of materials and their implications for reuse, such as new ethical stances on sourcing (of for example endangered wood) or shifting assessments of toxicity (of for example plastic). How do materials, and the way their affordances and qualities shift and are reassessed over time, enable things to become ‘sticky’ or repellent (Ahmed 2010, Herrman 2015)?

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