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Durham e-Theses
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Solar Cities in Europe: a material semiotic analysis of innovation in urban photovoltaics

MAASSEN, ANNE-CHRISTINE,STEPHANIE (2012) Solar Cities in Europe: a material semiotic analysis of innovation in urban photovoltaics. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis explores the gradual and by no means unproblematic emergence of solar photovoltaic technologies (PV) in European cities. It is a qualitative study of innovation in urban PV across three European cities: Barcelona (Spain), London (UK) and Paris (France) which draws on documentary evidence and interview data with a broad range of urban professionals engaged in implementing the technology. The thesis interrogates current understandings of how ‘green’ technologies such as PV are thought to bring about ‘sustainable’ transformations by ‘breaking through’ from the margins into mainstream society. Several innovation studies frameworks are assessed in terms of their merits and shortcomings for understanding innovation in urban PV. It is argued that extant literatures succinctly frame innovation as an interplay between that which is ‘novel’ and that which is ‘in place’, however, that they fail to address three issues that are critical for understanding how new technologies may emerge and transform: the multiplicity and heterogeneity of actors and their means for contesting ‘sustainable’ (or other) transformations, the complex spatio-temporality of ‘barriers’ to innovation, and the ways in which technologies gather humans, materials and spaces into new, potentially more ‘sustainable’ constellations. The thesis develops ‘material semiotics’ as a conceptual foundation and methodology for understanding innovation. Material semiotics provides powerful analytical sensibilities that enable the thesis to radically re-imagine the objects, processes and places involved in innovation. Through understanding innovation as characterised by attempts to bring forth into the present aspirations for alternative futures, urban PV is understood as simultaneously a vehicle for, as well as an outcome of, sustainable transformation. Its entanglement in a myriad of social, material, spatial and temporal relations is shown to engender a geography of ‘sustainable’ innovation that is much more partial and imperfect than current understandings suggest.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Innovation, solar energy, actor-network theory, urban geography
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:30 May 2012 11:26

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