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Session Overview
RN05_10c: Practice Theories
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Aalborg University
Location: BS.G.36
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road

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Consumption And Consumer Practices: An Overview Of Conceptual Uses And A Formation Of These Terms As Analytical Tools

Dimitris Lallas


Even though the term “consumption” would seem clear and easy to understand at first glance, nevertheless its various conceptual uses that one can find in scientific discourses of different disciplines, such as economic theory, political theory, critical social theory, sociology, cultural studies, and anthropology, induce confusion around its conceptual clarity and, subsequently, questions about the analytical adequacy of this term.

In this paper, I intend to present basic etymological versions of the word “consumption” in Greek, English and French language, and then to move on the designation of basic conceptual/analytical uses of this term (e.g.: Consumption as waste: Productive and anti-productive waste of resources/goods, Consumption as spending of desire: Thirst erasure, Consumption as (re-)production of productive subject, Consumption as practice of moral corrosion, Consumption as practice of social distinction, Consumption as practice of socio-cultural reproduction: Rituals and mythologies, Consumption as strategy of (individual) survival, Consumption as “mechanic process”, Consumption as practice of active appropriation).

Afterwards, drawing upon theories of practice, I attempt to propose a conceptualization of “consumption”, which will be conceptually concrete and analytically suitable, by positing the integral factor and boundaries of consumer practices.

The conceptualization of consumption as a practice, or a set of practices, enables us to avoid a priori positive or negative evaluated significations. This conceptual perspective recognizes the necessity of studying of consumption practices as complex practices concerning their motives or/and predispositions, dependencies (economic, social, sentimental, cultural, political), and their repercussions.

Social Movements, Everyday Practices and Political Economic Transformation

Luke Yates

University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Theories of practice are increasingly used to study social transformation in a way that accommodates the dynamics of daily life and everyday economic activity. Sociologists studying consumption are also becoming more interested in larger scale change, politics, and political economy motivated (for example) by studying environmental sustainability, inequalities, societal transitions, modes of provision and financialisation. Application of practice based approaches to studying change has been uneven, but theoretical advances suggest avenues for integrating the insights that the approaches allow into questions of governance, advocacy, activism and other modes of collective contentious action. This presentation surveys the use of practice theories in relation to the politics of social change. It argues, based on recent social theoretical developments and a range of compatible and ‘friendly’ theories from social movement studies, for further cross-fertilisation between fields. It proposes some empirical and theoretical domains that may progress this work, and it makes reference to the author’s current empirical work on the platform economy to illustrate the perspective.

Contentious, yet Compatible: Review of Social Practice Approach and Multi-level Perspective in Research on Sustainability Transitions.

Margit Keller

University of Tartu, Estonia

Multi-level perspective (MLP) and social practices approach (SPA) have been considered two of the most relevant approaches (Sovacool & Hess 2017) for studies of socio-technical change. They share several assumptions: a processual orientation seeing change as a co-evolution of elements involving multiple actors constrained by routines and a focus on tensions between reproduction and change (e.g. McMeekin & Southerton 2012). The present paper systematically takes stock of existing work co-applying MLP and SPA and identifies gaps leading to further conceptual development. A literature review is conducted in the databases of Scopus, Web of Science, ScienceDirect, (a sample of 95 works from 2010-19). The preliminary results suggest that full merging of the approaches has not been embarked on due to some underpinnings that the “strong” practice theory considers irreconcilable (Schatzki, 2011). The papers fall into two categories: 1) empirical analyses (mostly on food, energy and mobility) drawing on both frameworks without building further conceptual tools; 2) papers (predominantly within consumption studies) aiming at theoretical development. Here three somewhat distinct sub-groups emerge: analyses of intersections between transitions in practices and in regimes focusing on lock-in (e.g. Hargreaves et al 2013, Seyfang et al 2019); comparisons of practices on niche and regime levels (e.g. Crivits & Paredis 2013) focusing on (consumer) agency and systems of practices approach focusing on interconnections (e.g. Watson 2012). Preliminary analysis indicates that there is a lack of research on professional and industry practices and on the “junction” between consumption and production. The regimes and practices intersections analysis can provide a worthwhile avenue for applied intervention design and policy implications.

Automatic For The People. What Happens To Practice Theory If The Practice is taken over by machines?

Pål Strandbakken, Nina Heidenstrøm

Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

The proposed paper is based on a study of air-to-air heat pumps and heating practices in Norwegian households, with 9 households being interviewed before and after installing an air-to-air heat pump.

When thermal comfort becomes automatic, much of what we have called domestic heating practices disappear; that is they disappear from consumers’ everyday life. Business is taken care of by other agents. With a focus on technological possibilities, on “real”, that is institutionalized knowledge and on consumers’ engagements we had expected an active use of control panels and an enthusiastic and ‘active’ heat practice to be developed. Instead, we observed that these very rapidly developed habits tended to make thermal comfort into a non-practice. This might partly answer E. Shove’s question: how do practices, expectations and ways of life become naturalized? (Shove, 2003: 9). It seems as if people are quick to adjust to improvements and rising standards, taking the new good life for granted.

With services being delivered automatically, we tend to forget them. We expect the light to come when we turn the switch and we expect hot water when we enter a shower, and we adjust very fast to a situation where indoor thermal comfort is just something that is there. New practices quickly become ‘bodily’ habits. Automatic indoor thermal comfort is convenient. Perhaps the most convenient of is to have a practice taken over by technology? Is it still meaningful to call it a practice?

Something happens when a piece of technology enters the social field.

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