Knowledge base for sustainable HCI

At the sustainability HCI workshop we each agreed to contribute 3 items for an ‘essential reading list for sustainable HCI’. After much tinkering (making lists is easily my favourite method of academic procrastination…) here are my selections:

Mike Hulme, Why we disagree about climate change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge University Press, 2009.


“Climate change is not simply a ‘fact’ waiting to be discovered, proved or disproved using the tenets and methods of science. Neither is climate change a problem waiting for a solution, any more than the clashes of political ideologies or the disputes between religious beliefs are problems waiting to be solved. […] Rather than asking ‘How do we solve climate change?’ we need to turn the question around and ask ‘How does the idea of climate change alter the way we arrive at and achieve our personal aspirations and our collective social goals?'” (p.xxviii). nuff said.

Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy. New Press, 2007.


This is as close as it gets to a political manifesto for the social-media-videogame-tmz-generation. The book provides progressives with a powerful vocabulary with which to re-imagine politics away from the Enlightenment’s logocentrism and onto more participatory, playful and affective modes.

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, Speculative everything: Design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press, 2013.


Easily the most exciting book on design I’ve read this year. Much in line with Duncombe’s project, they illustrate various design interventions intended to communicate alternative social configurations.

And since settling on only 3 items caused me so much pain, here are a few honourable mentions:

Alan Weisman, The world without usThomas Dunne Books, 2007.


There’s something both terrifying and oddly comforting knowing that the world will keep going long after we’re gone. The book also gives an unusual glimpse into the sociotechnical, outlining various interfaces between human and nonhuman actors but from an unusual viewpoint (reflecting an object oriented ontology perhaps?). The “collapse informatics” folks may find this particularly interesting. (warning: avoid the same-titled TV show. It’s terrible).

Bruno Latour, Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Harvard University Press, 2004 (originally 1999).


The first half is probably the sharpest critique of environmental politics you’ll ever find. Plus, Latour is such a wonderful writer.

Donald Worster, Nature’s economy: A history of ecological ideas. Cambridge University Press, 1994.


A must-read social constructivist statement, this complements very well William Cronon’s seminal introduction to Uncommon ground [pdf] (1995).

Chris Turner, The geography of hope: A tour of the world we need. Random House, 2007.


While every social movement needs a utopian vision to unite around, actually existing sustainability success stories may help ground these visions in concrete realities.

Ronald Wright, A short history of progress. Anansi, 2004.


Based on his CBC Massey Lectures, Wright’s illustration of the ‘progress trap’ – how certain technological breakthroughs drive civilizational success to the point that specialization leaves those civilizations too vulnerable to survive – is fascinating, poignant and succinct.


And here are Sam Mann‘s recommendations.


Full references:

Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change : understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Duncombe, S. (2007). Dream: Re-imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy. New York: New Press.

Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: Design, fiction, and social dreaming. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Weisman, A. (2007). The world without us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.

Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Worster, D. (1994). Nature’s economy: A history of ecological ideas (2nd ed.). Cambridge; NY: Cambridge University Press.

Turner, C. (2007). The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need. Tornoto: Random House Canada.

Wright, R. (2004). A short history of progress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.