In two weeks from now, Dr. Dave Evans (Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, UK) will give a seminar, entitled Where is ‘the consumer’ in sustainable practices research? on the 20th of April 2016 from 13:00 - 14:30 in room C78 (Leeuwenborch building). You are warmly welcomed to attend this open seminar.
Abstract: The development of social scientific approaches to sustainability have recently evolved in tandem with trends in contemporary consumption scholarship. Notably the burgeoning field of ‘sustainable consumption’ has been influenced by theories of practice in their various guises, providing a welcome corrective to the overemphasis on individual consumer responsibilities in sustainability research and policy. Despite these developments, critical perspectives on sustainable consumption and behavior change neglect fundamental questions concerning changes over time, variation across substantive domains, and the mechanisms through which individuals and consumers are assumed to be responsibilized. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that key insights from consumption scholarship are excluded from the current state of the art in sustainable practices research. My starting point is that greater attention should be paid to work that explores the contingency and construction of ‘the consumer’ alongside the ways in which this shifting subject position has been mobilized in pursuit of various political and economic projects. Accordingly, I suggest that critical research on sustainable consumption might usefully focus on the configuration of relationships between different groups of strategic and collective actors (firms, policy makers, civil society organizations), and the ways in which these are mediated by the real and discursive figure of ‘the consumer’. By way of illustration, I present the findings from an empirically grounded study of the ways in which the challenge of food waste reduction has been framed, interpreted and responded to in the UK. I demonstrate that initial responses did indeed frame the issue as one fostering more responsible patterns of consumption, but that this quickly gave way to an emergent sense of distributed responsibility. Tracing the contours of this debate, I suggest that the (arguably) more satisfactory manner in which it unfolded relates to the rhetorical and tactical deployment of ‘the consumer’. To conclude, I reflect more generally on the ways in which debates within consumption scholarship might broaden the intellectual parameters of sustainability research.
About the speaker: Dr David Evans is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Sociology and Senior Research Fellow of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on the interplay of cultural and economic processes across a range of sites and spaces. He has published extensively on consumption, the dynamics of everyday life, food, and sustainability. David has long-standing interests in the nature of value, qualities and conventions, and is currently pursuing these under the auspices of an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project that explores the enactment of ‘freshness’ in food systems.