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Kitchens and bathrooms: Changing technologies, practices and social organisation - implications for sustainability

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27th-28th January 2005
University of Manchester, Manchester,
England, UK.

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A conference jointly funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s Sustainable Technologies Programme and Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition. It will be held at the Harold Hankins Building, University of Manchester.

Kitchens and bathrooms are hot spots of resource consumption. They are sites in which ordinary domestic practices are conducted with the aid of a range of resource-intensive technologies - such as washing machines, freezers, showers, baths. To give some indication of the implications for sustainable consumption: domestic energy use accounts for 30% of energy demand in the UK; the electricity consumption of domestic appliances has increased by 93% since 1970, largely due to the use of cold appliances; energy use associated with cooking in the home is the only form of domestic energy consumption to have declined since 1970 – a consequence of more people eating out (Association for the Conservation of Energy, 2004). Furthermore, domestic energy consumption accounts for 25% of all UK CO2 emissions (UK Energy Saving Office, 2004). Water consumption within the home has increased by 70% over the last thirty years (http://www.doingyourbit.org.uk/yourbit/index.html) and around 25% of domestic energy is now used for heating water (Environment Agency).

Clearly, kitchens and bathrooms are sites of changing practice. Ways in which people wash clothes, prepare meals and clean dishes differ from even a decade ago. Many factors contribute to changing practice, for example the growing number of dual income households, new household technologies and services, the changing spatial organisation of retail outlets, but each offer only partial insights into the ways that practices change. Kitchens and bathrooms are important sites at the intersection between households and the economy, systems of provision and energy and water infrastructures. They are also sites of technological and social innovation - new technologies and systems have changed domestic practices but also the way that households are managed and how their members interact. Kitchens and bathrooms are complex spaces with multiple functions, not just in terms of domestic work but also as places for the expression of identities and diverse forms of sociability.

Theories of consumption, the changing domestic economy, shifting systems of provision, and ‘human-technology relations’ all offer important entry points for understanding how and why kitchens and bathrooms change. Concentrating on the past and future of the kitchen and bathroom, this conference draws attention to the ways in which resource-intensive modes of consumption become embedded in the material and technological organisation of daily life. In doing so, the conference considers the implications of changing domestic life for sustainability.

Specific aims are to:

Conference format

The conference will bring together people working in the fields of policy and practice, and from industry and academia to explore the above themes in four sessions. The first focuses on general trends in domestic consumption, with an emphasis on energy, technology and changing practices of everyday life. Session two concentrates on kitchens, session three on bathrooms. The fourth session provides an opportunity to reconsider the relation between everyday life and sustainability. Each session will contain 3 presentations. A discussant will comment on the papers presented in each session and identify themes and questions for further debate.

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