Our work is published in a wide range of books, journals and reports.
Explore reports, journal articles, and general interest and academic books written by members of the Sustainable Consumption Institute.
Our publications list is generated automatically through the PURE system and includes all articles, books and book chapters by SCI members, both core and affiliated. Some work by individual affiliated members lies outside the research themes of the Sustainable Consumption Institute.
Below we highlight recent journal articles and books published by core SCI researchers.
Pihljak, L. H., Rusca, M., Alda-Vidal, C., & Schwartz, K. (2019) Everyday practices in the production of uneven water pricing regimes in Lilongwe, Malawi, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space.
Recent scholarship has called for widening investigations of cities through the analysis of everyday practices that shape urban life. Critical water studies have contributed to this emerging debate by using an everyday lens to document the diversity of practices of accessing and distributing water. Thus far, little attention has been given to the everyday practices of setting water prices and how these shape access. We contribute to this gap by investigating the practices of setting prices in two distinct service modalities within Lilongwe’s water supply network. Our study reveals the hybrid and dynamic arrangements that shape pricing regimes, formed through the formal and informal negotiations on subsidies, incentives, tariff increases and distribution of profits. In these negotiations, the decision-makers opportunistically mobilise their different and at times conflicting mandates (business and social) and guiding principles (equity versus cost-recovery). We conclude that pricing regimes are the outcome of intertwined structural processes and everyday practices that exacerbate uneven water flows in the city.
Alda-Vidal, C., Kooy, M., & Rusca, M. (2018) Mapping operation and maintenance: An everyday urbanism analysis of inequalities within piped water supply in Lilongwe, Malawi, Urban Geography, 39(1), 104–121.
In this article, we analyze the production of inequalities within the centralized water supply network of Lilongwe. We use a process-based analysis to understand how urban infrastructure is made to work and explain the disparity in levels of service by tracing the everyday practices of those who operate the infrastructure. This extends existing analyses of everyday practices in relation to urban water inequalities in African cities by focusing on formal operators, rather than water users, and looking within the networked system, rather than outside it. Our findings show that these practices work to exacerbate existing water stress in poor areas of the city. We conclude with a reflection on how understanding these practices as the product of the perceptions, rationalizations, and interpretations of utility staff who seek to manage the city’s (limited) water as best they can, offers insight into what is required for a more progressive urban water politics.
Boons, F. & McMeekin, A. (eds) (2019) Handbook of Sustainable Innovation. Edward Elgar Publishing.
The Handbook of Sustainable Innovation maps the multiple lineages of research and understanding that constitute academic work on how technological change relates to sustainable practices of production and consumption. Leading academics contribute by mapping the general evolution of this academic field, our understanding of sustainable innovation at the firm, user, and systems level, the governance of sustainable innovation, and the methodological approaches used. The Handbook explores the distinctiveness of sustainable innovation and concludes with suggestions for generating future research avenues that exploit the current diversity of work while seeking increased systemic insight.
Boons, F. & Bocken, N. (2018) Towards a sharing economy–Innovating ecologies of business models, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 137(C), 40-52.
The fragmented academic literature on sharing modes of provision deals with a diversity of initiatives ranging from for-profit business models to commoning initiatives. This literature mainly deals with individual instances, implicitly assuming that the sharing economy comes about by multiplying such initiatives. In this paper we argue that the transition to a sharing economy is a process where sharing and non-sharing modes of provision interact, constituting a complex process of social change. To facilitate research, we provide a literature review of the variegated literature, and develop a conceptualisation of the process of transition to a sharing economy using ecosystem thinking. In addition, we propose an approach to assess the environmental impact of sharing business models that takes the system context into account. This conceptual work is illustrated with the case of personal mobility. This work allows us to define a focused research agenda for researchers interested in the innovation and diffusion of sharing modes of provision as part of the wider transition to a sharing economy.
Browne, A., Hitchings, R. & Jack, T. (2019, forthcoming) ‘Already existing’ sustainability experiments: Lessons on water demand, cleanliness practices and climate adaptation from the UK camping music festival, Geoforum.
Experimentation has become a popular term amongst those interested in fostering more sustainable social futures. But the ways in which researchers and policy makers have thought about experimentation have generally been with reference to new infrastructural and governance conditions. Focusing on intentional interventions downplays the capacity for change stemming from peoples’ already existing practices. In this paper, we propose that the camping music festival – a site that continues to be seen by some as a cultural laboratory in which attendees try out new identities – can be thought of as a site of ‘already existing’ sustainability experimentation. Drawing on 60 interviews about personal washing at two camping music festivals in the UK, we explore the festival as a site from which we can draw lessons about how societies in the Global North might cope with the disrupted water supply linked to future climate change. Interviewees divulge how escaping societal expectations about bodily cleanliness can become pleasurable and the enjoyment found in resurrecting otherwise disappearing societal skills for living without easy access to familiar washing infrastructures. Spending an extended period without these infrastructures, and enjoying the experience, brings into question the assumption of an unwavering consumer need for constant supply that is embedded in modernist visions of ‘Big Water’ systems. Thus, we argue that research on the geographies of ‘already existing’ sustainability experiments holds new potential for reimagining mundane, everyday practices within research and policy agendas on sustainable futurity.
Foden, M., Browne, A., Evans, D., Sharp, L. & Watson, M. (2018, forthcoming) The water-energy-food nexus at home: New opportunities for policy interventions in household sustainability, Geographical Journal.
The nexus of water–energy–food (WEF) is as apparent at the household scale as it is anywhere else. We introduce the “Nexus at Home” as a starting point for exploring the dynamics of WEF resource use and household sustainability. Drawing on two research projects we focus specifically on domestic kitchens as a site where practices of cooking, eating, cleaning and disposing of waste come together. While these practices have long been targets for policy intervention, existing approaches draw on a limited range of perspectives from the social sciences. Reflecting on our work with four non‐academic partners (Defra, BEIS, FSA, Waterwise), we consider how social practice and geographies of household sustainability research might be combined with the dictum of “nexus thinking” to re‐imagine the framing of policy and intervention to reduce the resource intensity of everyday life. Synthesising existing “home practices” literature in the context of the “live” policy problems raised by our partners, we seek to provide clear guidance for intervening in kitchen practices. We draw on one topic which has not yet been the subject of social practices research: fats, oils and grease (FOG) going down the kitchen plughole and contributing to widespread sewer blockages. In doing so we document the sequence of interrelated food provisioning activities through which WEF is put to use in domestic kitchens and contributes to FOG blockages in sewers. We reflect upon the multiple ways these practices are shaped by the rhythms of daily life, dynamics within the home, wider cultural conventions, and infrastructures. This paper contributes to the nascent transdisciplinary research agenda of translating home practices research into wider conceptualisations of “intervention”, with a specific orientation towards academic and non‐academic stakeholders who are interested in influencing systems of sustainable consumption and production within, and across, the WEF sectors.
Ehgartner, E. (2018) Discourses of the food retail industry: Changing understandings of ‘the consumer’ and strategies for sustainability, Sustainable Production & Consumption, 16, 154-161.
This paper addresses the various ways in which ‘the consumer’ is portrayed in sustainability debates within the food retail industry and how these are interconnected with concepts of industry responses to sustainability-related issues. Paying attention to the significance of the consumer as a rhetorical figure this research contributes to social science debates on consumer responsibility and the concept of consumer choice. The empirical study examines the attitudes, behaviours, roles and responsibilities ascribed to consumers in discourses on sustainability in “The Grocer” magazine during four time periods between 2005 and 2015. The analysis demonstrates that notions of both, ‘the consumer’, as well as ‘sustainability’ are mutually dependent and subject to change over time. A significant shift in the understanding of strategies and implementations for sustainability takes place, from a rationale of ‘helping’ consumers to make sustainable choices in the supermarket towards a rationale of responding to consumers demand for sustainability by eliminating unsustainable choices. Although the argumentation throughout all years is consumer-centred, this discursive shift detracts attention from the supermarket as a realm for strategies and implementations for sustainability. Based on these findings it is established that rather than assigning responsibility to consumers the analysed debates maintain the paradigm of consumer sovereignty. It is further concluded that it is not so much consumer responsibility expressed through consumer choice that determines which strategies for sustainability are taken into consideration, but the dominant interpretation of values and behaviour of the sovereign consumer located within a particular understanding of sustainability.
Ehgartner, U., Gould, P. & Hudson, M. (2017) On the obsolescence of human beings in sustainable development, Global Discourse, 7(1), 66-83.
In 1956, the Jewish-German philosopher Günther Anders developed a philosophical anthropology on the technological and moral challenges of his time. Anders suggested the societal changes that arose with the industrial age opened a gap between the capability of individuals to produce machines and their ability to imagine and deal with the consequences caused by this capability. He argues that a ‘Promethean gap’ manifests in academic and scientific thinking and leads to an extensive trivialization of societal issues. In the face of climate change, Anders’ philosophical anthropology contributes substantially to our attempts to fight climate change with innovation. Anders' description of ‘apocalyptic blindness’ helps us to explain why we cannot help pairing our belief in historical progress and growth with our ideas on social and environmental justice. With that said, this paper contributes to the debate on humanity ‘after sustainability’ by calling to mind Anders’ historical theory on the outdatedness of humankind and his thoughts on our lack of imagination.
Martin, C., Evans, J., Karvonen, A. Paskaleva, K., Yang, D. & Linjordet, T. (2018) Smart-sustainability: A new urban fix? Sustainable Cities and Society, 45, 640-648.
Urban policy increasingly positions smart urban development as a transformative approach to deliver sustainability. In this paper, we question the transformative credentials of smartness and argue that it is better understood as a partial fix for the economic, environmental and social challenges faced by cities. Drawing on the urban sustainability and smart city literatures, we develop the concept of the urban smart-sustainability fix. This concept focuses on how smart-sustainable city initiatives selectively integrate digital and environmental agendas via entrepreneurial forms of urban governance. We develop this concept by examining how the urban smart-sustainability fix is constructed in the European Commission’s flagship smart cities and communities lighthouse projects, focusing on the Triangulum initiative. Our research reveals three elements of the urban smart-sustainability fix: (1) the spatial development of smart-sustainable districts; (2) the digitisation of urban infrastructure to reveal hidden processes; and, (3) collaborative experimentation with low-carbon and digital technologies. We argue that this has produced urban districts that are attempting to reduce their carbon emissions while promoting green economic growth. The main aim of the urban smart-sustainability fix is to make the urban realm more manageable resulting in amplification, rather than transformation, of the dominant ecological modernisation agenda of sustainable development.
Zinkernagel, R., Evans, J. & Neij, L. (2018) Applying the SDGs to cities: business as usual or new dawn?, Sustainability, 10(9), 3201.
With growing urbanisation the sustainability of cities has become increasingly important. Although cities have been using indicators for a long time it is only in the last decades that attempts have been made to collate indicators into sets that reflect the many different aspects required to assess the sustainability of a city. The aim of this paper is to review the evolution of indicators for monitoring sustainable urban development in order to understand how ‘new’ the indicators suggested by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are for cities and the challenges they may face in using them. The review reveals that previous indicator sets emphasised environmental sustainability, health and economic growth. It is also shown that indicator sets that pre-date the SDGs lacked dimensions such as gender equality and reduced inequalities. In all, the SDG indicators provide the possibility of a more balanced and integrated approach to urban sustainability monitoring. At the same time, further research is needed to understand how to adapt the SDGs, targets and indicators to specific urban contexts. Challenges of local application include their large number, their generic characteristics and the need to complement them with specific indicators that are more relevant at the city level.
Wilson, J. & MacGregor, S. (2019) Invited review essay: New Ecofeminisms: Matters of Life and/or Death, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.
Wilson, J. & Chu, E. (2019) The embodied politics of climate change: analysing the gendered division of environmental labour in the UK, Environmental Politics.
The intersection between gender and climate change action has received little scholarly attention. To facilitate a critical orientation towards the informal economies of social reproduction, the ways that the UK’s climate politics are rooted in masculinist discourses of a green economy are illustrated. Adopting an intersectional approach, it is argued that such a green economy perspective diverts attention from labouring bodies in climate politics, invisibilising the ‘who’ in the experience of climate solutions. Through critically engaging divisions of labour in climate policy, evidenced through a feminist critical discourse analysis, it is shown how a surface-level inclusion of gender perpetuates the labouring bodies associated with specific labour markets. In response, it is suggested that an intersectional approach to climate policy can account for these omissions and highlights the ways in which a more just, intersectional climate politics might be formulated.
Roberts, C. & Geels, F.W. (2019) Conditions for politically accelerated transitions: Historical institutionalism, the multi-level perspective, and two historical case studies in transport and agriculture, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 140, 221-240.
This article investigates the conditions under which policymakers are likely to decisively accelerate socio-technical transitions. We develop a conceptual framework that combines insights from historical institutionalism and the Multi-Level Perspective to better understand the political dimension in transitions, focusing particularly on the mechanisms of political defection from incumbent regime to niche-innovation. We distinguish two ideal-type patterns, one where external (landscape) shocks create a ‘critical juncture’ and one where gradual feedbacks change the balance of power between niche-innovation and regime. We also identify more proximate conditions such as external pressures on policymakers (from business interests, mass publics, and technologies) and policy-internal developments (changes in problem definitions and access to institutional arrangements). We apply this framework to two historical case studies in which UK policymakers deliberately accelerated transitions: the transition from rail to road transport (1920–1970); and the transition from traditional mixed agriculture to specialised wheat agriculture (1920–1970). We analyse the conditions for major policy change in each case and draw more general conclusions. We also discuss implications for contemporary low-carbon transitions, observing that while some favourable conditions are in place, they do not yet meet all the prerequisites for political acceleration.
Geels, F.W. (2018) Low-carbon transition via system reconfiguration? A socio-technical whole system analysis of passenger mobility in Great Britain (1990-2016), Energy Research & Social Science, 46, 86-102.
Low-carbon transitions in whole systems (in energy, mobility, agro-food) are an important, yet understudied topic in socio-technical transition research. To address this topic, the paper builds on the Multi-Level Perspective, but stretches it to address developments in multiple regimes and multiple niche-innovations. This ‘zooming out’ strategy changes the conceptualisation of transition dynamics from bottom-up disruption (driven by singular niche-innovations) to gradual system reconfiguration, which represents a more distributed, multi-source view of change that includes cumulative incremental regime change, shifts in relative sizes of regimes, regime alignments, component substitution, and symbiotic adoption. To illustrate the reconfiguration approach and empirically explore the topic of whole system change, the paper investigates unfolding trajectories in UK passenger mobility. This analysis, which addresses developments in auto-mobility, train, bus and cycling regimes and five niche-innovations (biofuels, electric vehicles, smart cards, compact cities, home working), aims to assess if and how the mobility system is reconfiguring in low-carbon directions. It also aims to provide an interpretive assessment of the 12.7% decrease in domestic transport-related CO2-emissions between 2007 and 2013. This decrease is attributed to reduced auto-mobility (due to the financial-economic crisis), incremental engine efficiency improvements in new cars, some modal shift from cars to trains, and biofuels. Radical niche-innovations (smart cards, compact cities, electric vehicles) did not (yet) greatly contribute to emission reductions. CO2-emissions increased again since 2014, which suggests that further low-carbon transitions require deeper system reconfiguration.
Heeks, R. & Shekhar, S. (2019) Datafication, development and marginalised urban communities: an applied data justice framework, Information, Communication & Society, 22(7), 992-1011.
The role of data within international development is rapidly expanding. However, the recency of this phenomenon means analysis has been lagging; particularly, analysis of broader impacts of real-world initiatives. Addressing this gap through a focus on data’s increasing presence in urban development, this paper makes two contributions. First – drawing from the emerging literature on ‘data justice’ – it presents an explicit, systematic and comprehensive new framework that can be used for analysis of datafication. Second, it applies the framework to four mapping initiatives in cities of the global South. These initiatives capture and visualise new data about marginalised communities: residents living in slums and other informal settlements about whom data has traditionally been lacking. Analysing across procedural, rights, instrumental and structural dimensions, it finds these initiatives deliver real incremental gains for their target communities. But it is external actors and wealthier communities that gain more; thus, increasing relative inequality.
Holmes, H. and Hall, S.M. (2020) Mundane Methods: Methodological Innovations for Exploring the Everyday, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Mundane Methods is an innovative and original collection which will make a distinctive methodological and empirical contribution to research on the everyday. Bringing together a range of interdisciplinary approaches it provides a practical, hands-on approach for scholars interested in studying the mundane and exploring its potential. Divided into three key themes this volume explores methods for studying: materials and memories, emotions and senses, and mobilities and motion; with encounters, relationships, practices, spaces, temporalities and imaginaries cross-cutting throughout. In doing so, it draws on the work of a range of established and up-and-coming scholars researching the everyday, including human geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, urban planners, cartographers, and fashion historians. Mundane Methods offers a range of truly unique methods - from loitering, to smell-mapping, to memory work - which promise to embrace and retain the vitality of research into everyday life. With empirical examples, practical tips, ethical considerations, and exercises this book will be accessible to a range of audiences interested in making sense of the everyday.
Holmes, H. (2018) New spaces, ordinary practices: circulating and sharing in diverse economies of provisioning, Geoforum, 88: 138-147.
This article draws upon two distinct UK case studies to explore how alternative modes of provisioning employ ordinary practices of sharing and circularity. Speaking to debates about alterity, diverse economies (Gibson-Graham, 2008) and emerging literature on the circular and shared economy, these two small and informal based models, one food-based, the other clothing, are put forward as examples of the vast array of contemporary ‘alternative’ forms of consumption and provisioning taking place across the UK. The article illuminates how diverse economies are ‘made material’ through their materials and practices. In doing so I make three key arguments: firstly, and overall, that studying materiality is one way to illuminate these new and emerging spaces of provisioning, highlighting their practices, intimacies and ambiguities. Secondly, this material focus illustrates how the practices of provisioning – in particular, sharing and circulating - are not new, but are instead organised in original and novel ways; and this has wider implications for contemporary debates on circular and shared economy. Thirdly, that the materials of provisioning can be both beneficial and troublesome to provisioning organisations’ practices of circulating and sharing and the extent to which they tackle issues of social exclusion, financial hardship and sustainable resource use.
Hirth, S. (2019) All Food is “Plant-Based” – Particularly Meat and Dairy, Discover Society, 71.
Hirth, S. (2019) Food that Matters: Sustainability and the Material-Discursive Boundaries of Carnist and Vegan Food Practices, Doctoral Dissertation, School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester.
Acting upon Livestock’s Long Shadow to mitigate climate change, mass extinction, and other social-ecological crises requires fundamental changes in food practices. Labelled as “ethical consumers”, vegans, vegetarians, and meat-reducing carnists already attract considerable attention. However, food practices on the production side, which are just as much an ethical issue, also require reconfiguration in order to achieve sustainable development. In a critical assessment of tendencies that depict consumer demand as the only legitimate means of change and depoliticise absolute reductions of animal-sourced foods, this thesis extends the locus of vegan food practices to various productive processes drawing on cases such as stock-based and stock free farms, retailers, and food-related advocacy networks. By exploring these foodscapes, it is examined how the material-discursive boundaries between vegan and carnist food practices are drawn, particularly in response to animal agriculture as a sustainability challenge.
Inspired by practice and materialist turns, my research builds on debates on ethical consumption, responsibility, and sustainability within sociological and geographical food studies. Relational and posthumanist approaches are drawn upon to conceptualise practices and conduct material-discursive analyses. Qualitative methods are applied to outline relations within and between agricultural and retailing foodscapes in Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, and South West England, involving a mix of participant observation (incl. field notes and photography), in-depth interviews with stakeholders on-site, and an interpretative examination of their sustainability-related websites and reports.
The findings revolve around the marginal but emerging agricultural and culinary paradigm of “vegan organic” production. It excludes the use of manure, bone meal, or other animal derivatives for the replenishment of soil fertility and relies instead on nutrient-fixing plants and practices such as composting or mulching. Thus, veganism, rather than being a dietary identity, becomes a relationally grounded approach to how vegans and plant foods come into being performatively through material-discursive practices. Conventionally, however, the term “vegan” as applied in both food regulations and everyday life, is merely a label either for people who abjure from animal products or for vegetal products. This dematerialised consumption-based mainstream conception of veganism personalises food practices, confines ethics to a sentimental care for domesticated animals, and depoliticises social-ecological reasons for veganism. In order to maintain a safe operating space for all life on Earth, I suggest that performing vegan food practices as much as possible is an undogmatic responsibility of ethical producers and consumers alike, regardless of their personal identities as vegans, vegetarians or “meat eaters” (carnists).
Katz-Gerro, T. & Lopez-Sintas, J. (2019) Circular economy activities in the European Union: Mapping Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Patterns of Implementation and their Correlates, Business Strategy and the Environment, 28(4), 485-663.
With the European Commission looking for ways to incentivize the adoption of circular economy (CE) activities by small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) in the European Union (EU), further insights into the implementation of CE activities across member states are needed. We analyse a European Commission survey conducted in 2016 among approximately 11,000 firms in EU‐28 member states in order to throw light on the conditions in which SMEs engage in five specific CE activities. In contrast to previous studies arguing that CE activities are independent of each other, we present novel findings demonstrating that seven patterns of engagement in CE can be identified in which activities are systematically interdependent. Further, we show that these patterns are associated with the organizational properties of SMEs and are differentially distributed among EU member states and industrial sectors. The interdependency of activities forms a hierarchy in which waste minimization is the most likely activity to be implemented in SMEs, followed, in descending order of likelihood, by replanning of energy use, redesigning products and services, and finally using renewable energy and replanning water usage. The findings have theoretical, managerial, and policy implications for the adoption of interdependent CE activities.
Orenstein, D., Katz-Gerro, T. & Dick, J. (2017) Environmental Tastes as a Predictor of Environmental Opinions and Behaviors, Landscape and Urban Planning, 161, 59-71.
We develop a novel way to assess how individuals perceive and utilize their local environment. Specifically, we query local residents in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park regarding their preferences for different characteristics of their environment and examine how these preferences correlate with environmental behaviors and opinions. We identify groupings of preferred characteristics as distinct environmental tastes that, drawing upon Bourdieu's theory of taste, represent general dispositions, preferences, or orientations regarding the environment. We then test whether these tastes are useful for explaining environmental behaviors and opinions.
We introduced this idea previously using survey data drawn from residents of a hyper-arid ecosystem. Here, we seek to establish whether our framework has potentially universal applications generalizable to other socio-ecological settings. We analyze survey data collected from inhabitants of the Cairngorms and, using data reduction methods, identify four distinct environmental tastes. We demonstrate how tastes constitute significant correlates of private sphere environmental behavior, engagement in outdoor activities, opinions about development, perceived economic benefit from the environment, and environmental concerns.
Environmental tastes defined for the Cairngorms are similar to those drawn from previous research and we find several parallels between the two different settings in the associations between tastes and opinions and behavior. There are similarities in the way individuals with certain profiles of environmental tastes are more inclined to have certain opinions and to engage in certain activities. We suggest that tastes can be elucidating for understanding diverse preferences for environmental characteristics and their broader implications for how humans interact with the landscape.
MacGregor, S., Walker, C., & Katz-Gerro, T. (2019) ‘It’s What I’ve Always Done': Continuity and Change in the Household Sustainability Practices of Somali Immigrants in the UK, Geoforum, 107, 143-153.
This paper explores the household sustainability practices of people who have migrated from the Global South to the Global North, by studying how Somali immigrants living in the UK engage with the sustainability agenda, why, and to what effect. We report on the findings of a mixed methods study conducted in Manchester in summer 2018, identifying patterns of continuity and change between country of origin and current residence in three environmentally significant areas of practice: resource conservation, recycling, and enjoyment of the natural environment. We then show how engagement or non-engagement in household sustainability practices is motivated by material/structural, ideational, and social factors. Our findings suggest that Somali immigrants are engaged with household sustainability for a variety of reasons, experience tensions and frustrations related to barriers to sustainability, and have knowledge that could make a positive contribution to green policy agendas. The findings allow us to disrupt dominant conceptions of household sustainability and to challenge the assumption that newcomers from ‘less developed countries’ need to be socialised into adopting household sustainability practices. We further argue that policy makers should consider more elastic notions of household sustainability, to better fit with and respect the lifestyles and motivations of immigrant communities.
MacGregor, S. (2019) Finding Transformative Potential in the Cracks? The Ambiguities of Urban Environmental Activism in a Neoliberal City, Social Movement Studies.
This article analyses a unique case of local environmental activism in order to think through the puzzle of how to interpret the transformative potential of the forms of small-scale collective action that have recently emerged in neoliberal cities of the Global North. In response to the call by J.K. Gibson-Graham and others for research that is less driven by abstract theory and more attuned to context and ambivalent possibilities, I present the findings of research co-produced with Upping It, a small activist group that uses innovative tactics to clean, green and rehabilitate stigmatized neighbourhoods in Moss Side, Manchester. By enacting forms of interstitial politics, Upping It makes a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary people and creates conditions necessary for politicization, while also participating in unfair and unsustainable local systems. Their story offers rich material for considering the strengths and limitations of two theoretical framings that appear to dominate the literature on micro-political movements: the post-political and new environmentalism framings. These frames, and the criticisms that have been made about them, help to identify two key insights from Upping It that are useful for better capturing the ambiguities and tensions of their kind of struggle in the current conjuncture. Firstly, we can see the importance of including justice-oriented activisms, which in this case might be seen as a form of defensive everyday environmentalism, in the emerging picture of new urban movements. Secondly, Upping It highlights the value of finding modest transformative potential in the cracks and on the margins of urban politics
Mahanty, S., Boons, F., Handl, J. & Batista-Navarro, R. (2019) Studying the Evolution of the ‘Circular Economy’ Concept Using Topic Modelling, in Yin, H., Camacho, D., Tino, P., Tallón-Ballesteros, A., Menezes, R. & Allmendinger, R. (eds) Intelligent Data Engineering and Automated Learning – IDEAL 2019, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 11872. Springer, Cham.
Circular Economy has gained immense popularity for its perceived capacity to operationalise sustainable development. However, a comprehensive long-term understanding of the concept, characterising its evolution in academic literature, has not yet been provided. As a first step, we apply unsupervised topic models on academic articles to identify patterns in concept evolution. We generate topics using LDA, and investigate topic prevalence over time. We determine the optimal number of topics for the model (k) through coherence scorings and evaluate the topic model results by expert judgement. Specifying k as 20, we find topics in the literature focussing on resources, business models, process modelling, conceptual research and policies. We identify a shift in the research focus of contemporary literature, moving away from the Chinese pre-dominance to a European perspective, along with a shift towards micro level interventions, e.g., circular design, business models, around 2014–2015.
Mahanty, S., Boons, F., Handl, J. & Batista-Navarro, R.T. (2019) Understanding the Evolution of Circular Economy through Language Change, Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Computational Approaches to Historical Language Change, 250-253.
In this study, we propose to focus on understanding the evolution of a specific scientific concept—that of Circular Economy (CE)—by analysing how the language used in academic discussions has changed semantically. It is worth noting that the meaning and central theme of this concept has remained the same; however, we hypothesise that it has undergone semantic change by way of additional layers being added to the concept. We have shown that semantic change in language is a reflection of shifts in scientific ideas, which in turn help explain the evolution of a concept. Focusing on the CE concept, our analysis demonstrated that the change over time in the language used in academic discussions of CE is indicative of the way in which the concept evolved and expanded.
McMeekin, A., Geels, F. & Hodson, M. (2019) Mapping the winds of whole system reconfiguration: Analysing low-carbon transformations across production, distribution and consumption in the UK electricity system (1990–2016), Research Policy, 48, 5, 1216-1231.
A founding assumption and aim of the sociotechnical approach to sustainability transitions was the need to develop frameworks to understand major systemic changes that would be required across the entire chain of production, distribution and consumption. However, most studies have so far focused on partial aspects of the entire chain, often a single, radical technology innovation. Therefore, since the founding ambition remains largely unrealized, the paper aims to contribute to transition scholarship by developing an approach for ‘whole-system’ analysis. As a second contribution, we argue that this broader unit of analysis calls for greater attention to the architecture of the system in terms of how constituent elements are linked to one another. To elaborate this point, we develop a reconfiguration approach, based on conceptual extensions to the multi-level perspective, analysing both techno-economic developments and socio-institutional developments. This approach draws attention to the multiplicity and interdependencies of change processes that constitute transitions, including incremental change, component substitution, symbiotic add-ons, knock-on effects and changes to the system architecture. A third contribution is to make an empirical whole-system analysis of the low-carbon reconfiguration of the UK electricity system between 1990 and 2016. This is important and timely, because it allows socio-technical transition approaches to ‘speak’ at the same empirical whole-system level that dominates current long-term, low-carbon (modelling) analysis and associated political and public debate. This consequently enables a demonstration of the added value of the whole-system reconfiguration approach. Our findings show that early reconfiguration of the UK electricity system was dominated by modular changes within the generation and consumption subsystems; and more recently, how these earlier changes have triggered a new focus on the whole system architecture, anticipating deeper changes to the linkages between the generation, network and consumption subsystems.
Hodson, M., Geels, F. & McMeekin, A. (2017) Reconfiguring Urban Sustainability Transitions, Analysing Multiplicity, Sustainability, 9(2), 299-219.
Cities, and the networked infrastructures that sustain urban life, are seen as crucial sites for creating more sustainable futures. Yet, although there are many plans, the realisation of sustainable urban infrastructures on the ground is uneven. To develop better ways of understanding why this is the case, the paper makes a conceptual contribution by engaging with current understanding of urban sustainability transitions, using urban sustainable mobility as a reference point. It extends these insights to argue that urban transitions are not about technological or social innovation per se, but about how multiple innovations are experimented with, combined and reconfigured in existing urban contexts and how such processes are governed. There are potentially many ways in which urban sustainable mobility can be reconfigured contextually. Innovation is in the particular form of reconfiguration rather than individual technologies. To make analytical sense of this multiplicity, a preliminary framework is developed that offers the potential to think about urban transitions as contextual and reconfigurational. We argue that there is a need to embrace multiplicity and to understand its relationships to forms of reconfiguration, through empirical exploration and further theoretical and conceptual development. The preliminary framework is a contribution to doing so and we set out future directions for research.
Evans, D. M. & Mylan, J. (2019) Market coordination and the making of conventions: qualities, consumption and sustainability in the agro-food industry, Economy & Society, 48(3), 426-449.
The coordination of activity across sites and spaces of production and consumption is a key concern for economic analysis. Joining a revival in the application of convention theory to agro-food scholarship, this paper considers complementary insights – related principally to ‘the economy of qualities’ – that animate different aspects of e/valuation, competition and alignment. These understandings are extended by more thoroughly acknowledging contemporary developments in consumption scholarship. The arguments are advanced through a case study of the orange juice market, linking its current high-carbon trajectory to the commercial and cultural significance of freshness. The analysis offers new insights into distributed processes of qualification as well as the mechanisms through which conventions are assembled and sustained. Finally, a more integrated approach to food production and consumption is outlined.
Mylan, J., Morris, C., Beech, E. & Geels, F. (2019) Rage Against the Regime: Niche-regime interactions in the societal embedding of plant-based milk, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 31, 233-247.
This paper engages with the debate on niche-regime interactions in sustainability transitions, using a study of plant-based milk and its struggles against the entrenched liquid dairy-milk regime, which has various sustainability problems. Plant-based milk is under-studied, so our empirical contribution consists of an exploration of its diffusion in the UK. We make three conceptual contributions. The first calls for a bidirectional analysis that addresses niche-oriented activities by incumbent actors, in addition to the outward-oriented activities by niche advocates presented in most studies of niche-regime interaction. The second contribution nuances Smith and Raven’s fit-and-conform and stretch-and-transform typology: using a societal embedding framework which distinguishes four environments, we suggest that hybrid patterns are possible in which innovations follow a ‘fit’ pattern in one environment but ‘stretch’ in another. The third contribution highlights the potential role of cultural meanings in galvanizing transitions by eroding positive associations that support the regime and stabilise consumer purchasing.
Oncini, F. (2019) Cuisine, Health and Table Manners: Food Boundaries and Forms of Distinction among Primary School Children, Sociology.
Using data gathered during ethnographic fieldwork in two primary school canteens, this article investigates how pupils from different social origins perform and embody social class through food knowledge and demeanour. I employ Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to highlight three main oppositions concerning children’s relationship with food, which are rooted in the social and material environment of their families. Their gastronomic horizons (wide versus narrow), their awareness of the links between nutrients and health (specific versus general) and their embodiment of table manners (etiquette versus ludic) unveil how children’s dispositions are simultaneously structured by familial endowments and actively at work in the construction of social divisions
Oncini, F. (2019) Feeding distinction: Economic and cultural capital in the making of food boundaries, Poetics, 73, 17-31.
Studies on cultural stratification have shown how processes of exclusion and distinction are created and later transmitted to offspring through eating and feeding practices. Building on the analytical opposition between economic and cultural capital, I adopt a mixed method perspective to shed light on two different ‘paths’ of distinction in Trentino, a region in northern Italy. First, using data from the 2012 Survey on Household Consumption (SHC) and the 2012 Multipurpose Survey of Daily Life (MDL) by ISTAT, I show that economic capital is related to the type of retail stores where groceries are purchased, whereas cultural capital is linked to greater compliance with dietary advice. Second, making use of 40 in-depth interviews with primary caregivers from different social classes, I outline how their purchasing and feeding practices can be similarly analysed along the lines of economic and cultural capital, distinguishing between two different forms of symbolic boundaries: the first relating to the places where groceries are bought and food brands are selected (economic boundaries), the second relating to the nutritional principles that guide feeding choices (cultural boundaries). In the conclusion I outline future research opportunities in the study of food stratification and possible applications of the conceptual framework here outlined in other fields beyond food consumption.
Katz-Rosene, R. & Paterson, M. (2018) Thinking Ecologically About the Global Political Economy, Routledge.
This book advances an ecologically grounded approach to International Political Economy (IPE). Katz-Rosene and Paterson address a lacuna in the literature by exploring the question of how thinking ecologically transforms our understanding of what IPE is and should be.
The volume shows the ways in which socio-ecological processes are integral to the themes treated by students and scholars of IPE – trade, finance, production, interstate competition, globalisation, inequalities, and the governance of all these, notably – and further that taking the ecological dimensions of these processes seriously transforms our understanding of them. Global capitalism has always been premised on the extraction, transformation and movement of what have become known as ‘natural resources’. The authors provide a synthesis of ecological arguments regarding IPE and weave them into an overall approach to be usable by others in the field. This synthesis draws on basic ecological political ideas such as limits to growth and environmental justice, ideas in ecological economics, practices of ecological movements in the global economy, as well as key ideas from other political economic traditions relevant for developing an ecological approach.
Providing a broad and critical introduction to international political economy from a distinctly ecological perspective, this work will be a valuable resource for students and scholars alike.
Gunster, S., Fleet, D., Paterson, M. & Saurette, P. (2018) "Why don’t you act like you believe it?": Competing visions of climate hypocrisy, Frontiers in Communication.
This paper interrogates how the notion of hypocrisy is invoked in relation to climate change and offers two key findings. First, it demonstrates that invocations of hypocrisy are not only deployed by conservative opponents of climate action, but also by progressive proponents of such action. Second, this article shows that while hypocrisy discourse is used to support both anti- and pro-climate change perspectives, its nature and function fundamentally differs depending on who is using it. The article identifies four discrete types of climate hypocrisy discourse. Conservatives who reject climate change action tend to use two “modes” of hypocrisy discourse. The first is an “individual lifestyle outrage” mode that cultivates outrage about the hypocritical behaviour and lifestyle choices of climate activists to undermine the urgency and moral need for climate change action. The second, an “institutional cynicism” mode, encourages a cynical fatalism about any proposed governmental action regarding climate change by suggesting that governments are necessarily climate hypocrites because of the economic and political impossibility of serious emissions reductions. In contrast, progressives use hypocrisy discourse in two different modes. The first involves an “institutional call to action” mode that uses charges of hypocrisy to attack government inaction on climate change and demand that effective action be taken in line with their public commitment to climate action. Secondly, they also employ a “reflexive” mode in which explorations of the ubiquity of climate change hypocrisy illuminate the dilemmas that virtually all responses to climate change necessarily grapple with in our current context. Overall, the article seeks to contribute to our understanding of climate change communications by (i) showing that hypocrisy discourse is not simply a sensationalist PR strategy of conservatives but is rather a broad, significant and multi-faceted form of climate change discourse; and (ii) suggesting that certain modes of hypocrisy discourse might not only represent genuine attempts to make sense of some of the fundamental tensions of climate change politics but also help us understand the challenge that the “entanglement” of personal agency/choice within broader political structures presents, and thus heighten positive affective commitments to climate change action.
Rödl, M. B. (2019) What’s new? A History of Meat Alternatives in the UK, in D. Bogueva, D. Marinova, T. Raphaely, & K. Schmidinger (eds.), Environmental, Health, and Business Opportunities in the New Meat Alternatives Market, pp. 202–217, IGI Global.
The “new market” for meat alternatives promises meaty profits and attracts enormous interest by consumers and investors alike. In this chapter, the historical development of meat alternatives is reviewed in an attempt to identify what is “new” about this particular market in the United Kingdom as an example of a Western country. Beginning in Victorian England, through the Wars into the 21st century, the societal background and developments leading into various episodes of markets for meat alternatives are discussed. Together with a description of the “new” market, historical continuities and current opportunities are outlined. It is concluded that health, environment, and business opportunities have played an important role throughout the history of the market, but the significance of this market in the commercial world is new.
Sharmina, M., Abi Ghanem, D., Browne, A., Hall, S., Mylan, J., Petrova, S. & Wood, F. (2019) Envisioning surprises: How social sciences could help models represent ‘deep uncertainty’ in future energy and water demand, Energy Research & Social Science, 50, 18-28.
Medium- and long-term planning, defined here as 10 years or longer, in the energy and water sectors is fraught with uncertainty, exacerbated by an accelerating ‘paradigm shift’. The new paradigm is characterised by a changing climate and rapid adoption of new technologies, accompanied by changes in end-use practices. Traditional methods (such as econometrics) do not incorporate these diverse and dynamic aspects and perform poorly when exploring long-term futures. This paper critiques existing methods and explores how interdisciplinary insights could provide methodological innovation for exploring future energy and water demand. The paper identifies four attributes that methods need to capture to reflect at least some of the uncertainty associated with the paradigm shift: stochastic events, the diversity of behaviour, policy interventions and the ‘co-evolution’ of the variables affecting demand. Machine-learning methods can account for some of the four identified attributes and can be further enhanced by insights from across the psychological and social sciences (human geography and sociology), incorporating rebound effect and the unevenness of demand, and acknowledging the emergent nature of demand. The findings have implications for urban and regional planning of infrastructure and contribute to current debates on nexus thinking for energy and water resource management.
Heyes, G., Sharmina, M., Fernandez Mendoza, J.M., Gallego Schmid, A. & Azapagic, A. (2018) Developing and implementing circular economy business models in service-oriented technology companies, Journal of Cleaner Production, 177, 621-632.
The service sector has the potential to play an instrumental role in the shift towards circular economy due to its strategic position between manufacturers and end-users. However, there is a paucity of supporting methodologies and real-life applications to demonstrate how service-oriented companies can implement circular economy principles in daily business practice. This paper addresses this gap by analysing the potential of service-oriented companies in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector to build and implement circular economy business models. To this end, the Backcasting and Eco-design for the Circular Economy (BECE) framework is applied in an ICT firm. BECE, previously developed and demonstrated for product-oriented applications, has been developed further here for applications in the service sector. By shifting the focus from a product-oriented approach to a user-centred eco-design, the paper shows how ICT firms can identify, evaluate and prioritise sustainable business model innovations for circular economy. The two most promising business model innovations are explored strategically with the aim of designing circular economy models consistent with the company's priorities of customer satisfaction and profitability. The findings suggest that ICT companies may be able to support the deployment of a circular economy in the service-oriented technology sector. Importantly, micro and small organisations can play a fundamental role if provided with macro-level support to overcome company-level barriers. Finally, the BECE framework is shown to be a valuable resource to explore, analyse and guide the implementation of circular economy opportunities in service-oriented organisations. Further research to verify the application of the findings to other service-oriented organisations is recommended.
Warde, A., Paddock, J. & Whillans, J. (2020) The Social Significance of Dining out: a study of continuity and change, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Dining out used to be considered exceptional; however, the Food Standards Authority reported that in 2014, one meal in six was eaten away from home in Britain. Previously considered a necessary substitute for an inability to obtain a meal in a family home, dining out has become a popular recreational activity for a majority of the population, offering pleasure as well as refreshment.
Based on a major mixed-methods research project on dining out in England, this book offers a unique comparison of the social differences between London, Bristol and Preston from 1995 to 2015, charting the dynamic relationship between eating in and eating out. Addressing topics such as the changing domestic divisions of labour around food preparation, the variety of culinary experience for different sections of the population, and class differences in taste and the pleasures and satisfactions associated with dining out, the authors explore how the practice has evolved across the three cities.
Welch, D. & Yates, L. (2018) The Practices of Collective Action: Practice Theory, Sustainable Transitions and Social Change, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 48(3), 288-305.
Developing theory for understanding social transformation is essential for environmental sustainability, yet mainstream accounts of collective action neglect the dynamics of daily life. Theories of practice have proved generative for the study of sustainable consumption but struggle to accommodate the roles of collective actors, strategic action and purposive collective projects in social change. In response, this paper develops a practice theoretical account of collective action pertinent to processes of large scale social change, with specific focus on transitions towards sustainability. We consider three ideal types of collective—bureaucratic organisations, groupings and latent networks—and, drawing on existing social theoretical resources that are ontologically compatible with a practice account, explore the kinds of practices and arrangements which compose them. Processes concerning strategy, bureaucracy, management, social worlds and collective identity are identified as important combinations of practices and arrangements. We suggest a key contribution of practice theory has been to identify a type of collective action we call dispersed collective activity, and we suggest how this type of activity may give rise to collectives. We conclude by suggesting further development for the realisation of the project's contribution to the analysis of sustainability transitions.
Yates, L. (2018) Sharing, Households and Sustainable Consumption, Journal of Consumer Culture, 18(3): 433-452.
Recently, economists and environmental scientists have problematised households, showing that their reducing size in average number of inhabitants has implications for environmental sustainability due to losses in economies of scale. Findings suggest that resources are shared better when people live together. This article analyses this common domestic consumption, drawing on literature about households, sharing and sustainable consumption. It is argued that multiple-person households apportion the resources involved in supplying practices through three modes of sharing: successive sharing, simultaneous sharing and shared/divided work. These are underpinned and enabled by standard material arrangements of households, in which a minimum of certain goods and services are available to residents regardless of number. Exemplifying the perspective, I examine recent survey data relating to meals and domestic laundry, two sociologically significant and resource-intensive spheres of domestic activity, paying attention to differences across one-person and multiple-person households. Modes of sharing, it is argued, also surfeit the domestic sphere, with market, state and household infrastructures playing contextually variable roles in provisioning goods and services among populations.