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The construction of 'waste' in the UK steel industry

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The steel industry has undergone profound changes of late with high profile takeovers (Tata-Corus and Mittal-Arcelor) that are part of a shift of the industry from the global North to the global South. Steel is probably the material of the globalised world with its icons and power horses (the aeroplane, the cargo ship, the automobile), it is extremely flexible in its applications, and fits into the current discourse on 'sustainability' because it is 'recyclable'. Indeed, the industry is keen to stress its 'green' credentials and efficient management of material flows in a context of rising costs, particularly of raw materials. Paradoxically, steel tends to be seen, not least by the social sciences, as an 'old-fashioned' and 'dirty' industry. This paper explores this apparent paradox through the issue of 'waste' management in the industry because it allows an analysis of the multi-dimensional relationships between materials, technologies and practices. Drawing on the resources of social as well as material sciences, the paper analyses to what extent 'waste' management is an issue of objective material properties, in contrast to social and organisational perceptions and practices around materials.
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Keywords: Science, Technology and Society (STS); governmentality; hybrid; social construction; steel; waste

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Geography Department, University of Durham, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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