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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Blog: The European Sociological Association 2017

29 September 2017

The ESA is an important international network for SCI sociologists, with a number of researchers actively involved in the Consumption Research Network, which has served as an intellectual home for the sociology of consumption since the early 1990s.

ESA Research Networks hold their own dedicated conferences biennially, while 2017 saw the full ESA conference, with over 3000 sociologists attending in Athens. Five SCI researchers attended, while Luke Yates, as Board member of Consumption Research Network, was involved in organising the Network’s conference streams. Three papers from SCI researchers appeared in the Network’s sessions.

In a session on ‘Consumption and Generations’ Tally Katz-Gerro presented a paper titled "Environmental Habitus: The Intergenerational Transmission of Environmental Behaviours in Cross-National Comparison". The presentation reported analyses of recent interview data collected in South Korea and in Israel, with three-generation families, on questions of environmental behaviours. Other papers in the same session concerned sustainable consumption patterns of youth in Finland and conspicuous consumption of young people in Athens. The “Food and Sustainable Consumption” session saw Ulrike Ehgartner present on an aspect of her doctoral research, discussing the dynamics of the discursive framings of consumers as agents of sustainability as found in UK retail trade media. The analysis maps a series of changes, between 2007 and 2015, in the way consumers are framed, reflecting wider changes in the way the discourse around sustainable food shared by various agents such as businesses, lobby groups, NGOs, and policy makers. The session also saw case studies on sustainable food consumption from Taiwan and Switzerland, enabling a wide-ranging panel discussion. Dan Welch presented in a session on “Practices and Practice Theory”—over three quarters of papers presented in the Consumption Research Network’s sessions drew on practice theory in some way, testimony to the enduring influence of SCI Professorial Fellow Alan Warde’s seminal intervention into the field. Dan’s paper was a theoretical reflection on how issues of emotion and motivation that have tended to be elided in the ‘practice turn’ but are of central importance to the study of consumption, and overdue a practice theoretical rehabilitation.

Jo Mylan presented in an ‘Environment and Society’ session on her research on individuals’ experiences of reducing meat consumption. Reduction in meat production and consumption is increasingly presented as a key element of a more sustainable food system, however, unlike vegetarianism, we know little about why people attempt to reduce the amount of meat in their diet. Drawing on twenty in-depth interviews, the paper explored consumers’ motivations for, and experiences of, reducing meat consumption, contributing to ongoing debates about behavioural change and the role of consumers in achieving sustainability transitions. Respondents’ complex accounts are beyond motivations around environmental issues or animal welfare, and relate to understandings of nutrition, bodily vitality, concerns about the conditions of meat provision, past food experiences, personal relationships and routine activities.  

Lastly, Luke Yates presented on “Social movement strategy and the politics of the possible”, discussing the role of imagined futures in political action and social change. Political opportunities often emerge from changes in people’s expectations about the future. Imagined futures are produced and circulated in social movements, political manifestos, policy papers, marketing and business strategy, media, lifestyles, subcultures and in consumption. Luke argued power shapes senses of political possibility yet resistance and political action is common even when change seems impossible and went on to explore how the ‘the future’ itself is mobilised, and struggled over, in accounts of the ‘sharing economy’.

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