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Sustainable Consumption Institute

The cultural politics of household sustainability in Manchester

Principal Investigators: Tally Katz-Gerro, Sherilyn MacGregor, and Catherine Walker

This research project investigates how Somali immigrants to Manchester understand and engage with ‘sustainability’ in everyday life. This research fits within a broader interest in the ways that increased South-North migration and environmental degradation (accelerated by climate change) are intertwined and exert intensifying pressure on global cities. At the same time, the research aims to gain insight into the role that ‘sustainability’, as a culturally-specific normative concept that is now taken-for-granted in the Global North, plays in shaping practices, perceptions, and relations relating to immigrants and immigration.  It explores how non-Western cultural knowledge and experience intersect with gender, race, age, and class to shape how people perceive and respond to local and national government agendas to make household practices more environmentally sustainable (or ‘green’).  

Anne Tucker 2018 (used with permission of photographer and people in the photo)
Anne Tucker 2018 (used with permission of photographer and people in the photo)

The main purpose of the research is to challenge and expand the dominant ‘green’ agendas by considering:

  • The extent to which participants habitually carry out environmentally-significant practices (such as recycling, composting, energy and water conservation) at home in their current living arrangements compared to what they did in their former countries of residence;
  • The extent to which the values and practices associated with dominant understandings of ‘sustainability’ in the Global North resonate with immigrants from less industrialised countries; and
  • Difficulties that participants encounter in their attempts to be ‘sustainable’ at home, including access to information, material resources, and infrastructure, and treatment by neighbours and local authority officials.

Data collection was carried out in summer 2018 in the ‘super-diverse’ (Vertovec, 2007) ward of Moss Side where Somali-origin residents make up 7.8% of the ward population (2011 Census). Surveys were completed by 57 participants and follow-up interviews were carried out with 16 participants who had moved to Moss Side between 1 and 20 years prior to the interview. The research team included a community co- researcher who acted as a cultural and linguistic translator and played a key role in building links and establishing trust between the project team and local residents.

The research team are now analysing, writing and presenting on findings generated through the data collection. These findings offer valuable insights into participant understandings of sustainability, how ideas around sustainability correspond to their past and present experiences of household resource use in Somalia and the UK, how culture and religious norms shape household practices, and gendered and generational differences in participants’ responses to policy messages about household sustainability.

The project fills a gap in the UK-based research on household sustainability and is particularly timely  in light of  Mayor’s plan to make Greater Manchester ‘clean, green and carbon neutral’ by 2038. It is hoped that better understanding of the experiences and perceptions of Manchester residents who are marginalised for linguistic and cultural reasons will be beneficial to policy makers and local communities alike.

  • Challenging assumptions, enabling inclusivity: A report on research about environmental sustainability conducted with Somali residents of Moss Side - download a copy of this report in English (PDF, 5.1mb).
  • Challenging assumptions, enabling inclusivity: A report on research about environmental sustainability conducted with Somali residents of Moss Side - download a copy of this report in Somali (PDF, 5.1mb).