We describe obsolescence as a social-technical phenomenon, assuming that obsolescence is not caused by material properties of the technology alone. Obsolescence is merely reconstructed as a part of practice formations in which economical, production, marketing and consumer practices are intricately interwoven. The research focus “sustainable consumptions practices” aims to investigate how social practices of consumers contribute to shortened usage periods and product lifetimes.
The actions of consumers are analysed from a practice theoretical perspective approach (see also theory of obsolescence). Actions and decisions in different phases of product handling – from pre-purchase to storage or disposal – are embedded into formations of social practices. Social practices are routines, i.e. relatively fixed courses or patterns of action, which are carried out on the basis of their practical know-how in certain social settings (e.g. workplace, household) with the help of material conditions. For example, the disposal of a device that is still usable or the purchase of a new or additional device is no longer regarded as an individual decision but is consistently embedded in social processes of meaning allocation (what is considered to be old or modern, outdated or desirable) and systems of provision. Additionally, the role of practical knowledge regarding products (e.g. knowledge of lifetimes or repair possibilities, own repair skills) and material as well as socio-spatial factors (product characteristics, availability of new products vs. repair services, etc.) which influence the length of the period of use is investigated.
A further focus is the question of the extent to which knowledge about and interest in durable products is available in various segments of society and what role longevity, modularity and reparability as possible elements of a recycling economy play in purchasing and use practices. A typology is to be developed that enables conclusions about social practices of different social segments in the context of different types of obsolescence. At the same time, it will be possible to identify group-specific barriers to environmentally friendly trade or sustainable consumption and to generate insights on how these barriers can be overcome.