Social movements and the politics of sustainable consumption

Two international workshops aimed at developing a European network and new research agenda.

In 2019 the Collective Action and Social Movements working group is holding two linked research workshops with key scholars working at intersections of social movement politics, everyday practices and environmental change.

A lego model of a figure with a statue of liberty crown wearing a Santa Claus outfit and holding a pick axe and a saw.

Economic activity is increasingly politicised and moralised in and outside of academic work. There is  extensive and enthusiastic commentary of alternatives: projects, initiatives or practices ranging from cooperatives to ‘collaborative economies’, new currencies, co-housing and political consumerism. Ideas about sustainability, both ecological and social, have been popularly invoked in promoting or commentating on alternative commodity chains, products, styles of retail and ownership. 

Yet the context of intensified inequalities and environmental crises make the widely popularised articulation of the political in these alternative highly controversial and suggest a number of research themes. One is the role of states, corporations and some social movements in maintaining business-as-usual and ‘responsibilising’ citizens. Relatedly are the trends towards neoliberalism, individualisation and choice and away from collective interests that have affected how people understand themselves and their activities to be civic, social, political and politicised. 

Discussion of alternatives tends to focus on certain examples of political consumerism in certain contexts, prioritising Anglo-Saxon and European case studies, and progressive projects most usually focused around food and environmental sustainability. Yet a commitment to exploring the politics of everyday economic activity must go beyond this, exploring forms of collective action, civic initiatives, subcultures, or simply practices which in aggregate have implications for social change.  Asef Bayat’s ‘quiet encroachment of the ordinary’ to the ‘latent networks’ of people sharing activities in time and space and the ‘dispersed collective activity’ of daily practices show how everyday politics is also about subaltern groups, forms of collective action made necessary by repressive regimes, which may be precursors to public protest and bureaucratic movements as understood in traditional social movement studies, or which may have effects completely independently of them. 

A group of workshop participants posing for the camera.

Our project brings together scholars working in the areas of social movements studies, consumption studies, and environmental politics, to continue explore these themes in two workshops at the University of Manchester. The emphasis is on pushing contemporary insights further, and anticipating the research questions and objectives for the next five to ten years.;

Workshop convenors


  • Bogumila Hall COSMOS, Florence
  • Lucie Middlemiss, University of Leeds
  • Dan Welch, SCI, University of Manchester
  • Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier, Sciences Po Paris
  • Steffan Boehm, University of Exeter
  • Harry Pitts, University of Bristol
  • Ian Cook, University of Exeter
  • Alan Warde, SCI, University of Manchester
  • Geoffrey Pleyers, University of Louvain
  • Ingolfur Blühdorn, WU Vienna
  • Priska Daphi, Bielefeld University
  • Viviana Asara, WU Vienna
  • Wouter Spekkink, SCI, University of Manchester