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 7: Getting emotional: historic and current changes in food consumption practices viewed through the lens of cultural theories

Marlyne Sahakian

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


Social practice theory has brought new perspectives to ‘sustainable consumption’ studies in terms of both conceptual developments and rich empirical research. One appealing and shared understanding is that practices change over time, suggesting that shifts away from current unsustainable practices toward more environmentally sound and socially just alternatives are possible. Much work has focused on how to recruit new practitioners to more ‘sustainable’ practices (Jack 2013; Plessz et al. 2014; Shove 2012). What has been called the ‘practice turn’ in consumption studies, however, also represents a turning away from cultural readings of consumption. Cultural studies have tended toward a structuralist approach, from which practice theory purposefully breaks. Rather than assume that a pre-existent ‘culture’ is made visible in social life, through symbols and rituals, practice theory suggests that everyday practices are the stuff of which social life is made of and the object of social analysis. There was good reason to shift away from cultural approaches in relation to ‘sustainability’. Consumer culture tended to focus on conspicuous consumption and status goods, failing to grapple with much of our everyday, mundane activities that are inconspicuous yet environmentally significant (Shove and Warde 1998). Spaargaren (2013; 2014) suggests that attention could be placed back on a cultural reading of consumption, as complementary to social practice theory.

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