ISIE Leiden 2023 - presenting the ethnographic research on TREASURE

ISIE 2023, Day 1.

Today was the first full day of the ISIE 2023 Conference. I was able to attend both the poster presentation section and the afternoon panels. Some were very relevant to TREASURE topically (e.g. pertaining to the automotive sector, or natural resources similar to the ones used in cars, or the circular economy), while others were more lateral topically but relevant in terms of methods used (e.g. life cycle assessment and other allied methodologies).

Of note: it looks like interesting work is being done on electric motors and the threshold for repair benefits at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.




ISIE 2023, Day 2

Today was full of informative panels, including our own, which was centered on Vehicles.


I presented our work with the following PowerPoint slideshow to a full room.


The response appeared enthusiastic, and we had time for three questions during the Q&A period. The questions were as follows:

  1. One audience member wanted to know about about the “event ethnography” setting and the process of planning interviews at industry events – whether the interviews were spontaneous, or had to be pre-arranged, etc. I explained the context for “event ethnography” – namely, that it is a comparative> ly recent approach in anthropology, one that arose in response to anthropologists turning their attention to the cultures and practices of institutions and organizations, and using stakeholder meetings, summits, conventions, etc. as ethnographic events. I clarified that in some cases prior permission was necessary to obtain, while in other cases ad hoc interviewing was possible.

  2. One audience member wanted to know whether there were any differences depending ont he age and gender of respondents. I explained that although we are cognizant of trying to secure female interlocutors, our sample to date has been predominantly male, as the self-selected demographic that attends industry car events tends to be overwhelmingly gendered male, and that we had not run an analysis by age, but in working with the interviews, there were no stark differences between the male and female respondents. However, we did notice that people who grew up with “older” cars would at times engage in comparative thinking, even when not prompted to do so by the questions (i.e. answering our open-ended questions in a way that built in a comparison, at times a nostalgic one, between older car models and current “electrified” cars.

  3. The last question pertained to the interview script and what sample questions it included. I explained that the interview scripts are available and visible on the Edgeryders platform, and also shared a few sample questions. The same person asked if there were any answers from the ethnographic informants pertaining to cost considerations. I noted that this theme emerged from time to time in comparative contexts and hypothetical narratives of behavioral choicces.

The rest of the panel featured interesting presentations on various aspects of vehicle and sustainability research, including a presentation on battery circularity in US-Mexico second-hand car trade, the promise of hydrogen in decarbonazing vehicle fleets of the British Royal Air Force.



The panel also included a paper from one of our partners in TREASURE, Abel Ortego of Zaragosa University, on resource efficiency in car electronics.


Today I also learned about the Journal of Industrial Ecology (that is changing editorship from the Yale School of the Environment to ISIE itself) – I think we could submit this presentation and a paper to JIS. @alberto thoughts?


Days 3 and 4 ISIE 2023.

Day 3 was a short day because there were only morning panels: the afternoon was scheduled “free time” meant for people to do independent excursions. I saw several interesting talks on materials and modularity (in the framework of life cycle assessment).

I had an interesting conversation with a civil engineer who had attended my talk, who asked an interesting question about the aspect of the results pertaining to people feeling ambivalence around electronics in cars because electronics in cars (and electronic cars) are harder to fix in a DIY ways, and thus owners don’t have the same knowledge and expertise they might have with the previous generations of cars, and also often require fixing with the dealership or specialized places, possibly not local – which disrupts relationships of trust with mechanics in one’s own community. This person asked whether it was an option that was being considered in the industry to intentionally prioritize DIY fixes for car electronics, primarily by simplifying design. I thought this was an interesting idea and potentially an interesting question to pose to our interlocutors because of the “return of agency” that kind of shift could offer, with potentially positive implications for reuse and circularity. She drew the analogy to the building sector where, she shared, the current trend and emphasis are on simplicity – a building should be a box with as few things inside it as possible. Could a car with electronic parts be like that, she wondered.

On Day 4, I attended talks on circular economy in different contexts. One talk that was about achieving circularity of water in the context of coal production and steel production raised the question of whether materials that can be recovered through circular solutions will be “byproducts” or valuable materials – seems like a question applicable to thinking through circularity in the automotive sector, too.

I also attended some of a session on indicators which was interesting in that it was process and methodology oriented. That session, during the discussion part, had an interesting conversation thread about “technological optimism” (the next generation of batteries will be better, will solve the problems, technological fixes will solve issues) that obfuscates the need to reduce demand and creates “unrealism” around it. Suggestion was made for industrial ecologists to embed studies within decarbonization scenarios as much as possible. These could be interesting topics to pursue in interviews with experts if we do them – specifically engaging these two topics, technological optimism vs reducing demand.





I wanted to add to this thread my certificate of attendance that I received from the ISIE, just for our records.
ISIE Attendance Certificate 130512.pdf (149.4 KB)

@alberto – as we discussed in Brussels, after learning more about the Journal of Industrial Ecology while at the conference, I would like to use our D 4.5 report as a basis for an article. If that is still cool with you, their word range for an article is between 3,500 and 6,000 words. I think I can hit that range, but after that can you do your magic in LaTeX to make it submission-ready? These are the guidelines.

Hello Nica. Sorry, it’s a no. I have precious little time to dedicate to Edgeryders, and using it on LaTEX wrangling would displace more important things.

Roger that – do you feel good about me prepping and submitting it?

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Yes! Absolutely. I can also do SOME work on it (for example visualizations, or reading and commenting).

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Awesome! Since it will be based on the first report I don’t think new visualizations would be necessary, at least not at the submission stage, but I would love for you to read it when it is prepped for submission.

I just read the review report for the first period, and they emphasize the importance of dissemination, so this would nicely align with that emphasis.

Just following up on this – I got an invitation to submit from JSE which is actually dedicating an issue to work from this conference – I am going to upload the title and abstract this week, as per their invitation

Following up on this further. I submitted the abstract for the special issue. This was the submitted abstract:

Conceptualizations of sustainable behavior, circular economy, and car electronics in the automotive sector: An Ethnographic Perspective

As industrial ecology contexts sit at the intersection of nature, culture, and economics, an anthropological approach to human behavior in industrial ecology can offer a holistic perspective designed to surface hidden assumptions and biases. This abstract represents the results of the first phase of a mixed methods (ethnographic interviews and semantic network analysis) study of how sustainable practices, including circular economy, are conceptualized in the automotive industry, with a particular focus on on how car electronics mediate the uptake of those concepts in social actors. We found that there is a pervasive ambivalence about car electronics stemming from the different sensory and interactive experience between a human and a car depending on the different physical possibilities of the industrial materials involved in car manufacturing (including issues of privacy and surveillance and their impact on user acceptance of sustainable technologies). This article situates this finding in the context of other relevant insights from our research: namely, an under-recognition of the concept of “circular economy” in car-interested general public, and the importance of personal networks for knowledge and expertise built around trust when it comes to decision-making around car maintenance. This study contributes to the field of industrial ecology, as it offers insight into sustainable behavior pertaining to consumer and citizen choice in the car sector.

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I am working on the article for the Journal of Industrial Ecology and in writing the literature review section came across this article on circular economy in EU context, which is quite interesting:

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@alberto – I finished a draft of the article for the Journal of Industrial Ecology. The submission deadline for the journal is October 13th. I would love for you to read through it. It’s basically our D 4.5 report expanded and reworked into an article. Some of the sections are more or less the same (esp. the visualizations ones) but I rewrote a fair bit of it too. I am going to email it to you.

@alberto – just making sure you saw this!

Hello Nica! I have seen it, just on the road and very busy, so trying to buy some time. DO you have a deadline?

In other news: I am going to be back in NY the week starting 13 November, this time with girlfriend 1. Hoping to see you… maybe this time we could ALL go to the opera?

hi @alberto ! Yes the deadline to submit is October 13th…so if you had a chance to look it over in the next few days taht would be amazing.

And yes to opera! Fingers crossed we will be able to get tickets.

Great work! Read and sent you an annotated version just now.

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Thank you @alberto ! Fixed based on your notes and incoming back to you with a couple more clarifications needed.

@ivan did you say you wanted to put something on LinkedIn about this article being submitted? With @alberto 's edits and notes I will be able to finalize it over the weekend.

Also @alberto I am not sure what the JIE system needs in terms of author logistics, if I need your ORCID or anything like that for registering us as authors in the system, I will let you know. I will put myself down as corresponding author unless you prefer to do that?

You should be the corresponding author! ORCID numbers can be easily found in I am here: ORCID

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