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Sustaining Intensities: Materialism, Feminism and Posthumanism Meet Sustainable Design Open Access


Other title
Social sustainability
Sustainable Design
New materialism
Environmental sustainability
Deleuze and Guattari
Social innovation
Ecological sustainability
Social resilience
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hroch, Petra
Supervisor and department
Shields, Rob (Sociology and Art & Design)
Examining committee member and department
Wallin, Jason (Secondary Education)
Antoniuk, Tim (Art & Design)
Parr, Adrian (Sociology and School of Architecture and Interior Design, University of Cincinnati)
Heyes, Cressida (Philosophy and Political Science)
Chisholm, Dianne (English and Film Studies)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation explores the concept of environmental sustainability and design by connecting posthumanist philosophies of materiality to material practices. This research complicates the idea of sustainability by posing sustainability as a problem or a question: What is sustainability? Or, indeed, what is worth sustaining? To explore these questions I engage with materialist and process-based philosophies such as the work of Deleuze and Guattari and materialist and posthumanist feminisms and connect them to theories and practices of environmentally sustainable design and design activism. My objective is to ask: How can these philosophies and practices critically and creatively inform ways of thinking and/as doing sustainable environmental relations? How can they promote building bridges, cultivating difference, and generosity toward future generations? This project contains four chapters that examine the relationship of onto-epistemologies of subjectivity to environmental ethics, the potential of design as an intensity-sustaining discipline, the ways contemporary rhetoric of sustainability serves to reinforce an unsustainable status quo, and the ways designers themselves engage with sustainability as a concept and problem. The first chapter begins by thinking differently about the relationship between subjectivity (“me”) and spatio-temporality (“milieu”) through the concept of habit, habitat, and co-habitation. I connect Deleuze and Guattari’s immanent concept of a “people-yet-to-come” to what I call the “planet-yet-to-come” and argue that the intensive difference-generating processes of the refrain or “ritournelle” present a therapeutic-ethic of co-habiting with the earth. The second chapter deterritorializes Deleuze and Guattari’s “three domains of thought” in relation to design as an interdiscipline. I interrogate their critique of majoritarian design and its complicity with “creative” capitalism and explore “minor” modes of design (such as Toronto fruit-picking organization Not Far From the Tree) that seek to sustain intensities and activate heterogenous connections and collective flourishing. The third chapter connects the concept of “social sustainability” to what I describe as its contemporary “schizoid” modes: the rhetoric of “social resilience” and “social innovation.” I draw on materialist and posthumanist theories of affect in order to complicate the kinds of social “grassroots” initiatives in which individuals today are being invited to participate and situate these within the broader context of a neoliberal ecological and economic milieu. I propose “intensive resistance” as a relational response to a diagram of power that locates agency in the “dividual.” The fourth chapter “entangles” encounters with Deleuzo-Guattarian and materialist and posthumanist feminist philosophies together with conversations with designers and case study examples of their sustainable design concepts and practices. I extend the methodological “mud mode” developed in the dissertation to experiment with making “composthumanist” (Haraway, 2014) philosophies “meet halfway” (Barad, 2007) with sustainable design practices in order to generate thought-bridges that cultivate more generous (Braidotti, 2006, p. 259) modes of mingling with our milieu.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Hroch, P. (2013). Resilience versus Resistance: Affectively Modulating Contemporary Diagrams of Social Resilience, Social Sustainability, and Social Innovation. MediaTropes. Foucault/Deleuze: A Neo-liberal Diagram (Special Issue). Eds. G. Elmer and M. Tiessen. 4 (1). 17-46.Hroch, P. (2014). Deleuze, Guattari, and Environmental Politics: Ritournelles for a Planet-yet-to-come. In Deleuze & Guattari, Politics, and Education Eds. M. Carlin and J. Wallin. London, UK: Bloomsbury, pg. 49-75.Hroch, P. (2014). Sustainable Design Activism: Affirmative Politics and Fruitful Futures. In Deleuze & Design. Eds. B. Marenko and J. Brassett. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh Press.

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