Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
JS_RN05_RN12_04: Sustainable Consumption and Wellbeing
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Session Chair: Marlyne Sahakian, University of Geneva
Session Chair: Matthias Gross, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
Location: BS.4.06A
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Fourth Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road

Session Abstract

Increasingly, researchers are making the links between consumption, finite resources, and what Ian Gough has termed “sustainable wellbeing” (2017). Sociology has much to contribute to this theme, in both conceptual and methodological terms. Climate change and uncertain energy futures has led to important developments in sociological approaches, including social practice theories and science and technology studies. In relation to consumption studies, unpacking the role of consumption in relation to finite resource is a critical area of study as well, involving theoretical approaches to consumption and social change. The question of what is « the good life » and how it can be studied empirically also remains critical, with some tensions between approaches based on meeting fundamental human needs on the one hand, and supporting the development of capabilities on the other. One novel idea has been to purse the notion of “consumption corridors” or, in the language of Giulio and Fuchs (2014), a minimum and maximum consumption standard, which would allow individuals to live a satisfactory life, without impeding others from doing the same, across the globe and for future generations. Another is the increasing focus on sufficiency, rather than efficiency, towards socially embedded change. This joint session will invite contributions from sociologists making the links between consumption, environmental constraints and wellbeing, bringing together scholars from RN5: Consumption and RN12: Environment and Society.

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Challenging Laundry Conventions in Finland and Switzerland: When Upper Limits to Consumption Contribute to Wellbeing

Senja Laakso1, Marlyne Sahakian2, Laure Dobigny2, Laurence Godin2

1University of Helsinki, Finland; 2University of Geneva

Laundry practices are held together by similar collective conventions, such as notions of comfort and convenience, across European households. However, they are performed in highly diverse ways, both between countries and within households. We compare laundry practices in Finland and Switzerland before and after an ENERGISE Living Lab (ELL) challenge, which set a relative upper limit to wash cycles over a four-week period, among 37 households in Finland and 36 in Switzerland. This relative “upper limit” can be seen as a “consumption corridor” maxima (Di Giulio and Fuchs 2014), established through a participatory approach and as part of a European H2020 project to reduce energy usage related to heating and laundry in eight countries and among approximately 300 households. For this paper, we begin by discussing our conceptual approach, towards a definition of sufficiency in relation to energy usage that involves changes in habitual and routinized practices, as well as setting upper and lower limits to consumption (Sahakian et al. 2019). We then compare laundry practices in Finnish and Swiss households, based on both qualitative data that describes practice elements, and quantitative data on wash temperatures, cycle frequency, and household roles. In a third section, we compare what changes took place in the households during and after the introduction of the ELL laundry challenge. We then discuss what is similar and what differs between the two contexts in relation to wellbeing, including freeing up time, and reconsidering what is dirty and clean, among other factors. In a conclusion, we discuss how sufficiency measures focused on setting upper limits can translate to wellbeing.

Estimating And Implementing “Sustainable Consumption Corridors” In Practice

Françoise Bartiaux

F. N.R.S. & Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Di Giulio and Fuchs (2014) have proposed the concept of “sustainable consumption corridors”, as well as some objections thereto and their responses. This contribution intends to continue this discussion by trying to frame it within a social practice theory approach, with a focus on the practices dealing with the estimations of the lower and upper limits of sustainable consumption.

De Giulio and Fuchs base their concept of “sustainable consumption corridors” on the notion of “individual objective needs”, a notion that I will discuss both theoretically and empirically. Issues of power and of legitimacy are at stake to pretend to define with “objectivity” lower and upper limits of consumption.

To illustrate empirically the misleading notion of “individual need”, I show the range of energy consumption levels across social groups using different proxies and taking Belgium and different surveys as an example. The following proxies are used and discussed: the yearly electricity consumption per income quartile (SEREC survey, 2004), an estimation of the ecological footprint (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996) per profession (WWF-Belgium, 2006), and a new index of capability deployment (based on Nussbaum, 2000) according to households’ access to affordable warmth (Generation and gender Programme, 2009). The discussion includes some epistemological and ethical aspects of these three proxies, as well as measurement issues. (All estimations presented are from previous quantitative studies I was associated with.)

Finally, a few policy instruments (thought of or really tested) to implement such “corridors” are briefly presented to illustrate the pitfalls for estimating and implementing these “sustainable consumption corridors”.

How Do People Practice Green Public Spaces as a Consumption Corridor? Initial conceptual reflections linking satisfiers, to practices, to needs

Marlyne Sahakian1, Manisha Anantharaman2, Antonietta Di Giulio3

1University of Geneva, Switzerland; 2St Mary's College, USA; 3University of Basel, Switzerland

The significance of green public spaces towards “sustainability” is well-documented in relation to social inclusiveness, human health and biodiversity protection, yet how green public spaces enable the achievement of what Ian Gough has termed “sustainable wellbeing” (2017) is less understood. The GRESPA (Green public spaces in the cities of South and Southeast Asia) project, with empirical research currently underway in four cities (Chennai, Metro Manila, Shanghai, and Singapore), hypothesizes that green public spaces are synergistic satisfiers that contribute to meeting multiple protected human needs, towards human well-being. In this paper, we lay out the conceptual framework relating the notion of protected needs and satisfiers to social practice theory and green public spaces. This conceptualization advances a view that social practices are spatialized and performed; spatialized, in that practices are made possible or impossible by the material arrangements and emplaced norms and regulations, co-constructed by a range of stakeholders; performed, in that we study the activities and doings in the park, rather than solely people’s representations. Through triangulation, we demonstrate how we plan to study protected needs methodologically, in relation to descriptions of park practices, reflections on a list of protected needs (Di Giulio and Defila 2018), and visual representations of park spaces and practices. We end the paper with some initial insights from fieldwork, notably what is made visible and rendered invisible in practicing park spaces (e.g., what is allowed or not, for different people, in different spaces, and varying times of day). We conclude with some discussions on green public spaces as consumption corridors, and how parks relate to other forms of un-sustainable consumption, in the context of cities where air-conditioned microclimates are increasingly normalized.

Sustainable Mobilities for Wellbeing: Hedonism or Eudaimonism?

Katerina Psarikidou

Lancaster University, United Kingdom

This paper aims to contribute to emerging debates around the challenge of changing mobility systems towards a lower carbon direction without compromising people’s experiences of wellbeing. There is an increasing number of studies that underlines the interlinkages between mobilities and wellbeing (e.g. Ziegler and Schwanen, 2011; Ettema et al, 2010; Nordbakke and Schwanen, 2014). However, a lot of them are based on narrow, mostly quantitative, approaches to wellbeing and mobilities, mainly reduced to indicators for travel satisfaction. This paper opens up to a more multifaceted analysis that builds on Aristotelian hedonic and eudaimonic approaches to wellbeing – the first perceived as a ‘good life’ achieved through the satisfaction of personal desires, while the second as a ‘good life’ realised through a purposeful engagement in the society (see Christie, 1998; Sayer, 2011; O’Neil, 2006; Nussbaum, 2000) – for the investigation of Sustainable Mobilities for Wellbeing. For the EPSRC Liveable Cities project, I asked participants from the UK city of Birmingham to describe their mobility practices associated with their perception of ‘good life’. In this paper, I provide an analysis that unpacks the complex interconnections between mobilities and wellbeing. I explore the possibility for mobility practices to constitute not only ‘means’ for the accomplishment of social practices of wellbeing, but also ‘practices of wellbeing’. However, I also help realise the more blurred boundaries between hedonic and eudaimonic, individualistic and social wellbeing. I suggest that shifting towards more ‘eudaimonic’ and ‘social’ approaches to wellbeing can be key for transitioning towards sustainable mobilities for wellbeing.

Young People's Use Of 'Good Life' Narratives.

Anastasia Loukianov, Kate Burningham, Tim Jackson

University of Surrey, United Kingdom

Ranging from Ancient Greek philosophies to today’s marketing pitches, the concept of the ‘good life’ has been woven into a wide variety of narratives, each with differing levels of compatibility with social and environmental sustainability. In the last decades, academics have increasingly turned towards good life narratives that could theoretically deliver decent standards of living within the limits of the planet (Gough, 2017; Jackson, 2017; Raworth, 2017). But as our ability to meet sustainable futures comes under growing threat, exploring which narratives resonate with lay people becomes essential. Reflecting on focus groups and participant filmmaking with twenty-two 10 to 14 year-olds in the South of England, this paper explores which narratives of the good life are used by these young people to describe and represent what living well means to them. Young people’s personal productions are envisioned as vehicles of collectively shaped, ideologically laden, and historically contingent narratives of the good life. Particular attention is paid both to the theoretical factors of wellbeing in relation to which these narratives are called upon and to the contexts in which they are performed. While given narratives should not be understood as straightforward reflections of young people’s beliefs about the meaning of the good life, they constitute sense-making tools that have tremendous influence on lifestyle aspirations. As such, young people’s use of these narratives is a crucial topic for anyone interested in sustainable futures.

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