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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

The trash bin on stage: on the sociomaterial roles of street furniture

Wirdelöv, Johan;


They are easily overlooked, but benches, trash bins, drinking fountains, bike stands, ashtray bins, and bollards do influence our ways of living. Street furniture can encourage or hold back behaviours, support different codes of conduct, or express the values of a society. This study is developed from the observation that the number of different roles taken on by street furniture seem to quickly increase in ways not attended to. We see new arrivals such as recycled, anti-homeless, skateboard-friendly, solar-powered, storytelling, phone-charging and event-making furniture entering public places. What are typical sociomaterial roles that these things play in urban culture of today? How do these roles matter? This article suggests a conceptualisation of three furniture roles: Carnivalesque street furniture takes part in events and temporary places. Behaviourist street furniture engages in how humans act in public. Cabinet-like street furniture makes itself heard through relocating shapes of other objects. These categories lead to two directions for further research; one concerning the institutions behind street furniture, and one concerning how street furniture shapes cities through influencing different kinds of ‘scapes.’ The aim of this article is to advance theory on an urban material culture that is evolving faster and faster. By conceptualising this deceptively innocent group of things and articulating its relations to the everyday structures of the city, I hope to provide a framework for further studies.


everyday life; material culture; public space; sociomaterial densification; street furniture

Published in

Urban planning

2020, volume: 5, number: 4, pages: 121–131

Authors' information

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

UKÄ Subject classification

Cultural Studies
Landscape Architecture

Publication Identifiers


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