Dr Helen Holmes

'Lost property: exploring the sustainability of lost objects'

'Lost property: exploring the sustainability of lost objects'

Dr Helen Holmes, Hallsworth Research Fellow, Sustainable Consumption Institute, The University of Manchester

This paper presents the initial findings from a pilot project exploring lost property and its potential connections to issues of sustainability and social change. Abstract notions of absence, nothing and loss are becoming increasingly intriguing phenomena for sociologists interested in the everyday (Scott, 2018). However, whilst their theoretical connotations are being progressively discussed, empirical investigation into these phenomena remains absent. This project seeks to translate the abstract notion of loss into an empirical and material focused study. Involving qualitative interviews with: lost property offices; households; museums and repair cafes/re-use networks in Manchester, it explores how lost property connects to broader issues of waste and sustainable resource use.

This research addresses both the sacred and the profane, paying attention to lost items of significant symbolic value (e.g jewellery), as well as those of a more ordinary nature (e.g umbrellas, gloves), exploring the relational abilities of material objects (Holmes, 2018). In particular, it is interested in understanding how lost objects are replaced or substituted with other objects. Likewise, the project examines the broader issues of lost objects and their connections to practices of re-use and repair; this is through both a focus on consumer purchasing decisions but also what happens to lost objects which are never claimed. Broadly, the project contributes to debates on the sociology of the everyday, developing an agenda which explores people’s relationships to objects and the relevance of this for sustainable practice and social change.

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