By Dr. Don Slater (Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science) Dr. Joanne Entwistle (CMCI, King’s College London) Mona Sloane (Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Project Website: www.configuringlight.org/#
Light has been largely invisible in social sciences. Although there are established research agendas on vision and visual culture, light itself – as material culture, as infrastructure, as a physical feature of social landscapes – has virtually no literature. Conversely, the largely technical literatures on light in architecture, design and energy studies make sociological assumptions that do not connect to the social science approaches that could help make sense of light as lived practices and understandings (eg, material culture studies, science and technology studies, consumption studies). Configuring Light/Staging the Social aims to forge an integral dialogue between social sciences, design, architecture and urban planning focused on one of the most fundamental features of social life. As the programme title indicates, we are concerned with light as a material thing which is shaped or configured into specific social forms, and which enters into the ways in which social life and interaction is staged and enacted in specific social worlds.
Our aim is to produce both knowledges and methodologies for better researching the ways in which light is configured and the roles it plays in structuring social life. In pursuing this aim, our perspective is ethnographically comprehensive: we want to map all the significant forms of knowledge, practice and governance and all the actors (consumers, designers, planners) that enter into the processes of configuring light and staging social life. We anticipate that the practical and user significance of this research programme could be both large and – at the outset – unpredictable.
Our own expectations are twofold: • Light consumption has a greater impact on energy use than any other single social practice; changes in light use stemming from new knowledges and methodologies can make a huge environmental and economic contribution. • Light, as a fundamental feature of social life and of design, provides grounds for deeper methodological integration between social sciences and design disciplines, with possibilities of dramatic changes of practice on both sides of this divide.
Configuring Light/Staging the Social is a research agenda rather than a single research project. The aim is to develop, over the course of the next year, a limited number of pilot projects into a coherent programme. We have identified four focuses for research development:
Digital Ethnography Research Centre, School of Media and Communication and the Centre for Urban Research (Beyond Behaviour Change research program), School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University
The Inhabiting Buildings project adopts an innovative participatory research methodology to map and promote change in the RMIT community to improve sustainability. It focuses on everyday social practices within the built environment to understand how resources are consumed, what role buildings and technologies play in shaping these processes, and where opportunities exist for social, cultural and organisational change.
Two PhD scholarships (projects 6 and 7) are available for humanities/social science students working under the supervision of A/Professor Tania Lewis and Dr Yolande Strengers as part of the RMIT Greener Government Buildings programme. More information can be found at www.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/ggb. Also see the project description below. Note the closing date for applications is 31 October 2013.