UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fridge space : journeys of the domestic refrigerator Watkins, Helen


My dissertation emerges from a curiosity about the mundane objects and machines with which we live and it pauses in Britain’s kitchens to ask what we might learn from looking in the fridge. Considered by many to be a rather ordinary and unremarkable appliance, the refrigerator forms a virtually ubiquitous backdrop to routine activities of feeding, provisioning and storing, but rarely is it brought into explicit focus. This study traces the ‘career’ of the mechanical refrigerator and is based upon interviews and archival work in Britain. I unravel intersecting histories and geographies of cooling, discuss a global trade in ice, explore changing understanding of the nature of heat and cold and show how varied ideas and technologies contributed to achieving the creation of artificial cold. The means by which these techniques were translated into the home is central to my discussion and I show how the domestication of refrigeration also played a role in the reconfiguration of associated practices, such as freezing, shopping and eating. I consider the process of normalisation through which refrigerators shifted category from novel products to essential appliances and argue that in many ways the refrigerator has now become integral to the constitution of domestic space. My research follows the lifecourse of the refrigerator and its journeys through multiple sites and spaces, enabling me to analyse diverse refrigerator knowledges and practices from repair shops and recycling facilities to scrap yards and museums, in addition to the home. Although using a refrigerator is frequently dismissed as something ‘self-evident’ or ‘obvious,’ I argue that fridge practices are not innate but learned. I explore ways in which these knowledges travel and pay particular attention to the translation of scientific and technical knowledges into domestic contexts. The ‘reach’ of the domestic refrigerator is considerable and I use one of the more notorious moments in its career, when refrigerators were implicated in global climate change, as a way to show how day to day activities like chilling milk and lettuce can have far-reaching effects at a range of scales.

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