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Anchoring innovations in oscillating domestic spaces: Why sanitation service offerings fail in informal settlements

Journal article
Authors Pauline C. Cherunya
Helene Ahlborg
Bernhard Truffer
Published in Research Policy
Volume 49
ISSN 0048-7333
Publication year 2020
Published at School of Global Studies
Language en
Keywords Global South, Oscillating domestic spaces, Practice theory, Sanitation, Socio-technical transitions
Subject categories Globalization Studies


A persistent conundrum for practitioners and researchers in the development context is that, often, newly provided and improved basic services are not maintained by users despite seemingly superior functionality and user convenience. We argue that one major reason for this is an insufficient understanding of the context in which users have to manage their daily lives. We therefore propose an approach to analysing the embedding of basic services that focuses on the users’ daily practices. We do so by borrowing insights from ‘socio-technical transitions’ and ‘practice theory’ in developing our concept of oscillating domestic spaces. The concept reflects the need for people to constantly respond to quickly changing and precarious circumstances by rearranging their daily practices in time and space and developing a multiplicity of alternative options and partial solutions. We illustrate the analytical approach in a case study of sanitation access in informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya. The analysis shows how the introduction of a container-based toilet resulted in partial embedding. The innovation anchored to only a part of the oscillating domestic spaces and was in disarray with the needs of users most of the time. The conceptual approach contributes to the understanding about how users take part in sustainability transitions as well as the added value of the time-space dimension in analysing practices in highly complex contexts. We conclude by reflecting on the potential applicability of the analytical approach to transition cases in the Global North.

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