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Consumption, Markets, and Sustainability

Consumption, Markets, and Sustainability

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Consumption, Markets, and Sustainability

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  1. Consumption, Markets, and Sustainability Güliz Ger Bilkent University, Ankara

  2. Key findings in consumption studies and implications for sustainability • Dynamics and logics that construct consumption, including its excesses • Consumption: social mechanisms, dynamics, practices • Discourses/ideologies that impel and frame consumption • Markets & network of market actors • Alternative strategies/trials to generate changes in consumption practices

  3. Beginning • Consumerism - masses • Few: Voluntary simplicity (downshifting) andgreen consumption (buying environmentally friendly alternatives on offer, buying "used" or "pre-owned" products, recycling, sharing, etc. ) • The gap between representation and reality: consumer’s choices and preferences • Knowledge-to-action gap • Value-to-action gap

  4. Consumption: Social mechanisms, dynamics, practices • Social comparison • Constitution, objectification, and communication of identity and relationships • The fashion cycle and the “Diderot Effect” • Rituals, celebrations, and gift-giving • Everyday routines • Legitimation of excessive consumption • Hedonism and novelty • Desire

  5. Lessons learnt • Individual choices and desires are socially constructed • Consumers desire to desire • People seek pleasure AND morality • Consumption serves to deal with and resolve tensions: • To break free versus sociality • Difference versus belonging • Transgression versus moral conduct • Meanings matter • Materiality matters • Routines are difficult to change but they do change • Particulars matter: particular practice in its particular (socio/political/historical/economic) context • Who’s done it? A network of multiple actors

  6. Discourses, ideologies that impel and frame consumption • “The good life” - prosperity • Consumerism • Normality  • Convenience, comfort, cleanliness  • The idea of the self: autonomous individual, consumer sovereignty, free choice ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Countervailing discourses can fight against the dominant ones. Can “sustainability” counter “consumerism”?

  7. Markets & network of market actors From duty to individual desire “Products are to satisfy the sovereign consumer; businesses respond to demand” Cultural intermediaries: media, films, the world of advertising, the world of fashion Product design and aesthetics Production and technological innovations Governments and regulatory bodies

  8. Towards sustainability: What NOT to do • Inform & educate individual consumers and stop there • Put all the responsibility on the consumer • Invite people to adopt sober or austere lifestyles on environmental or moral grounds • Ask people to go on a permanent consumption diet • Define unspecified or confusing goals: ‘‘saving the planet’’ or ‘‘saving energy’’ - ignore what is meaningful in social life and fail to engage with relevant social practices (abstract representations are meaningless unless made specific to the situation at hand) • Circulate ambiguous discourses

  9. Towards sustainability: What to do 1. Mobilize more than one of the market actors: alliances, collaborations

  10. Towards sustainability: What to do 2. Bring relationships & affiliations with other people to the fore • Compare consumers to others like them • Consumers desire what desirable others desire and seek to do what they do; so first convince the desirable others

  11. Towards sustainability: What to try 3. Make sustainable practices alluring: Use the market against the market (jiujitsu principle) • Collaborate with the market and cultural intermediaries - fashion industries, media (conventional and social), marketing, movies, etc. • Present ecological goals as “positive” and “glamorous” • Frame sustainability itself & sustainable products and services as • Fun, enjoyable, cool • Aesthetically & sensually pleasing • Stylish

  12. Example • London on Tap campaign • Mayor of London and Thames Waterand the local utility company • First campaign: price and information on taste, environmental impact, and health unsuccessful • Then: ordering tap water in fancy restaurants – a social taboo • A new material object (to replace bottled water): the designer carafe, made from recycled glass, which offered a new means for communicating environmentally sound – and stylish – consumption preferences. • Public debate

  13. Another example • Les Mangeurs - restaurant and food shop in Geneva • locally produced and seasonal foods and beverages • Members sign on to the program to receive seasonal vegetables on a monthly basis • When customers accept what is provided by the local farmers and seasons, this is a way of freeing up people’s time: rather than thinking about what to eat and shopping in stores to prepare meals, the ingredients in the basket dictate what food will be prepared – which reframes ‘‘individual freedom of choice’’ as time-consuming and burdensome. (Sahakianand Wilhite 2014)

  14. Towards sustainability: What to try 4. “Routine busting” – support emergent innovative practices which might become routinized and widespread, and then compete with or even replace the less sustainable ones

  15. Towards sustainability: What to try 5. Support emergent new social movements • Voluntary creative communities • E.g. Community supported agriculture

  16. Towards sustainability: What to try 6. Encourage open public communication and debates civil society, NGOs, public debates on the media --- Might reinforce countervailing discourses ---

  17. And, of course: • Encourage eco-technological innovations: to increase energy and raw material efficiencies • Encourage eco-design innovations: designing products for repair, reuse, renovation, remanufacturing, and as a last resort, recycling

  18. THANK YOU! ger@bilkent.edu.tr