Critical Sustainable Consumption: A Research Agenda

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Abstract

Sustainability scholarship is increasingly focused on individual behavior change and sustainable consumption as crucial components of engendering more sustainable societies. Practices like bicycling to work, recycling and reusing goods, and eating organic food are heralded as both integral to and generative of larger societal transformations. Scholars have begun to identify the individual and societal conditions that can help enable such practices while also examining social, cultural, and systemic dynamics driving over-consumption, particularly in the developed world. Additionally, questions of social and cultural identity have been interrogated, as the cultural politics of sustainable consumption emerges as a key sub-field in its own right. While more recent work has begun to focus on linking individual environmentalisms with the collective processes of changing social systems, sustainable consumption as an analytical concept has largely lacked any deep engagement with questions of power or politics. Questions of power, legitimacy, authority, and consequently justice remain largely unexamined in this field of research. In this paper, I draw on research examining sustainable consumption in India to present an argument for a new direction in sustainable consumption research that prioritizes a critical perspective and is grounded in critical social theory. I argue that sustainable consumption researchers need to look at relational and structural power within sustainable consumption efforts to see how these efforts challenge or reinforce existing patterns of oppression and marginalization and outline a “critical sustainable consumption” disposition to permeate sustainable consumption study and practice.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 16 2018

Keywords

  • Sustainable consumption
  • Power
  • Critical theory
  • Research justice

Disciplines

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Civic and Community Engagement
  • Curriculum and Social Inquiry
  • Inequality and Stratification
  • Sociology

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