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Session Overview
RN05_05b: Ethical consumption
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Marlyne Sahakian, University of Geneva
Location: BS.G.35
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road

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Enabling Citizen Organising for Sustainable Transitions

Mikko Laamanen1, Francesca Forno2

1Royal Holloway University of London; 2University of Trento, Italy

Opportunities for citizen-led initiatives to promote sustainability lie in the possibility to open up spaces for collective action to enact changes both at the personal-lifestyle level (altering mind-sets, moral justifications etc.) as well as at the structural/institutional level from the local, regional, and national context. We elaborate on the concept of collective action for sustainable transition discussing how grassroots groups organise their communities for reaching transformative goals.

As the paper will argue, collective action for sustainable transition requires alternative forms of organising to build effective networks of different participants and resources. The paper reviews the principles of alternative organising, in particular their democratic and participatory method, and the effectiveness to achieve claimed outcomes. To exemplify differences between geographies, we illustrate findings from two extensive projects in Finland and Italy that differ in their embedding within larger politico-economic realities (such as influencing the breadth and depth of austerity measures people are subjected to in their everyday lives). We approach the elusive sustainability outcomes within alternative organising contexts (Laamanen et al., 2018) where comparative studies between the European North and South are scarce.

Our initiatives are practical vehicles for raising people's awareness about sustainability with manifold potentials for promoting meaningful social participation and positive environmental impact of local resourcing. Our approach answers the call for more comparative studies between the well-off European North and the austerity influenced European South (Lekakis and Forno, 2018) and whether these differ in their forms of political consumption.

Becoming a Reclaimer, Doing Reclamation: The Intersecting Lives of Practices, Practitioners and their (Un)wanted Things

Mike Foden

Keele University, United Kingdom

Practice theory and its empirical applications have made a welcome contribution to understanding what people routinely do and how that changes, especially with respect to (un)sustainable or (un)healthy patterns of consumption in the home. At the forefront have been ‘strong’ articulations of practice theory, marked by their focus on the historical emergence, development and disappearance of shared social practices. They have helped counter a well-documented tendency to blame consumers for making apparently bad choices, advocating a shift in the locus of policy intervention away from individual attitudes and behaviours. While recognising the importance of this contribution, this paper contends that there are good reasons to also, sometimes, pay analytical attention to the trajectories of specific humans and material things that together accomplish concrete performances. In particular, doing so enables deeper practice-theoretical engagement with grassroots activism, broadly defined. First, it is likely to improve understanding of how practices recruit and retain practitioners, not least when change is politically contentious and its advocates have relatively little reach to ensure that others follow suit. Second, becoming an activist subject – cultivating the inclination, dispositions and competences to see, think, feel, act, and be in the world differently – can be understood not only as a means to an end, but an end in itself. It follows that investigating this process is intrinsically valuable. The interconnected careers of practices, practitioners and things are explored here through empirical research on reclamation practices: ways of acquiring, repurposing and using goods that would otherwise go to waste.

Understanding Ethical Consumption in the Reshaping of Consumer - Producer Relations

Kirsten Gram-Hanssen

Aalborg University, Denmark

Different parts of sociological theory have tended to see ethical or political consumption as either a moral question including visualising the global responsibility of consumption, as freeing the post-modern consumer and their creativity or as a consumer sociological approach where ethical consumption, in line with all other consumption, is seen as a question of distinction and class belonging. Others have questioned the adequateness of placing the responsibility of environmental and ethical issues on the individual consumer rather than focusing on the organization and structures of society. Political sciences has on their side asked, if ethical consumption is a new form of political activism, which is at the expense of the more traditional forms of political participation. Much of the basis for these understandings, however, tend to be within an economy with separate spheres of production and consumption. A relevant question is thus if questions of ethical consumption change with reconfiguration of the market. This paper has an explicit focus on energy consumption and the transition of the energy system where more renewable and thus fluctuating energy provision will be part of the future. This future energy system is likely to contain different parallel transitions including more liberalization, different versions of “presumption” with end-users producing their own energy in either an individualized or a community based approach. It is also likely to include more automation of consumption as well as a society where consumers buy services rather than products and resources. In any of these cases, it is relevant to discuss how different ideas of ethical consumption may change with different types of reconfiguration of the market.

An Exploration of the Emancipated Nature of Ethical Consumption

MinHye Lee

University of Winchester, United Kingdom

Consumption is not just about the individual’s rational purchase of products or services which is in line with the economic-materialist. Consumption is rather intersected with the social processes of meaning making in which individuals create and express meanings or emancipated signs.

This study aims to re-construct the notion of ethical consumption by taking a socio-cultural perspective. This study explores how the members of a self-defined ethically conscious consumer group in South Korea perform their own ethical consumption practices and create discourses and meanings within and without their social world. By employing an ethnographic approach, this study conducts 30 semi-structured in-depth interviews and 6 months of participant observation in South Korea.

Ethically conscious consumers in this study develop their own understandings of ethical consumption, reflect them to various forms of practices, and disseminate their experiences to the society. ‘Ethics’ in consumption is not a definite and solid entity but it is more about getting closer for instance, more sustainable or less materialistic. Then ethical consumption is a situational and contextual compromise so that it cannot be put in any single and consistent way.

Through the micro analysis of ethical consumer culture in South Korea, this study challenges and transforms the dominant view of ethical consumption contributing to explore the complex dynamics of ethical consumption.

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