Structural conditions for and against sustainable ways of consuming

Authored by: Bas van Vliet , Gert Spaargaren

Routledge Handbook on Consumption

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138939387
eBook ISBN: 9781315675015
Adobe ISBN: 9781317380900


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This chapter takes stock of social scientific research on consumption that involves the utilization of what we call infrastructures of consumption. These include the networks providing the universal and environmentally relevant services of water supply, electricity, heat and gas, as well as those collecting, transporting and treating our waste water. It is tempting to conceive these infrastructures of consumption as external moderators or impediments to sustainable ways of consumption and hence to study them as distinct domains: provisioning systems on the one hand and the behavior of consumers on the other. Especially concerning the latter, there is a long research tradition dominated by individualistic approaches, fuelled by social psychological theories of Bounded Rationality (Simon, 1955), Attitudes and Behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), and Planned Behavior (Organ, Proverbs & Squires, 2013). Central in these approaches is that consumption is seen as a set of behavioral patterns which are the result of individual attitudes, norms and choices. Turning consumption into sustainable consumption would mean to inform consumers about the environmental consequences of their behavior, and to introduce and facilitate “green” choice in the supply of consumer goods and services. This so-called Attitude, Behavior, Choice perspective has been criticized for its reliance on consumers’ supposedly rational, conscious decision making about a single behavior, which is in fact highly routinized, socially constructed and embedded in larger socio-technical systems of provision. (Shove, 2010)

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