Putting Sustainability into Practice

Putting Sustainability into Practice

Applications and Advances in Research on Sustainable Consumption

Edited by Emily H. Kennedy, Maurie J. Cohen and Naomi Krogman

Putting Sustainability into Practice offers a robust and interdisciplinary understanding of contemporary consumption routines that challenges conventional approaches to social change premised on behavioral economics and social psychology. Empirical research is featured from eight different countries, using both qualitative and quantitative data to support its thesis.

Chapter 6: Disentangling practices, carriers, and production–consumption systems: a mixed-method study of (sustainable) food consumption

Julia Backhaus, Harald Wieser and René Kemp

Subjects: environment, ecological economics, environmental sociology, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


This chapter illustrates that broadening the analysis of practices to characteristics on the part of practice-carriers, as well as to systemic factors, bears improved understanding of reasons for practice variability and opens up practice research to more quantitative methodological approaches. Reminiscent of Reckwitz’s (2002) frequently cited definition of a practice as ‘a routinised type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other’ (p. 249), we attempt to unpack these elements, yet refrain from focusing solely on the constituents of practices. The conceptual framework we develop to cope with practice variations is based on the notion of ‘webs of entangled elements’ across production–consumption systems, practices, and their carriers. Our findings are based on empirical data derived from several in-depth interviews and a survey of more than 1200 respondents (as carriers of practices) in three European countries (Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands as different production–consumption systems). Results show how some elements of the practice of food purchasing intersect with other practices, most notably with working. Further, practice performances shift with changing life circumstances and time constraints, after a significant experience or simply due to information gleaned through the media. These shifts in practice performances, which otherwise are rather stable for longer periods of time, can be viewed as punctuated equilibria, with one and the same person being able to perform sets of practices belonging to different equilibria, depending on which set of materials, meanings, and competences she is drawing.

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