Plastics, materials and dreams of dematerialization

Abstract : This chapter aims to provide a better understanding of the interplay between the materiality of plastics and their anthropological dimensions. Previous materials, such as glass, wood and aluminium, are referred to by the name of the stuff of which they are made. By contrast, the common name of synthetic polymers derives from one of their physical properties. The linguistic preference for the term 'plastic' is an indicator that plasticity gained a cultural meaning in the twentieth century. This requires a closer look at the physical and chemical properties of the class of materials gathered under the umbrella 'plastics', as well as at their production process. The entanglement between material, technical and cultural aspects shapes artefacts themselves, and reconfigures the relation between nature, artefacts and culture. Following a brief historical sketch about the emergence of plastics-as-plastics and reinforced plastics, the chapter will describe how synthetic polymers contributed to the emergence of a new relation between technology and matter as they generated the concept of materials by design and 'materials thinking' - a new approach to materials in technological design. The next section looks more closely at the cultural values associated with the mass consumption of plastics, such as lightness, superficiality, versatility and impermanence. It emphasizes the utopian dimension of plastics and the striking contrast between the aspirations to dematerialization or impermanence and the neglected process of material accumulation upstream and downstream, which are respectively the precondition and the consequence of the Plastic Age. Finally, taking up the traditional issue of the relations between the natural and the artificial, the chapter considers how plastics are reconfiguring the contemporary vision of nature.
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Chapitre d'ouvrage
J. Gabrys, G. Hawkins, M. Michael. Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic, Routledge, pp.17-29, 2013
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Bernadette Bensaude Vincent. Plastics, materials and dreams of dematerialization. J. Gabrys, G. Hawkins, M. Michael. Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic, Routledge, pp.17-29, 2013. 〈hal-00939499〉

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