Chapter 3: Environmental civic practices: synthesizing individual and collective sustainable consumption
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A fairly robust consensus among scholars and practitioners pursuing sustainability holds that social change will depend upon collective – not individual – actions. Social practice theories offer a promising lens through which to understand the interstitial space between the individual and the collective. To date, social practice theories in sustainability studies have been applied to understand the collective nature – and consequences for material consumption – of everyday routines. What these studies do not yet elucidate is the interstitial space between those activities that take place within the home, and the activities and conversations taking place in the public sphere. Unpacking the link between private and public practices is an overlooked and vital component of the study of sustainable consumption – and the focus of this chapter. Using a qualitative comparative case study of leaders on local food movements in three Canadian cities, we present the concept of ‘environmental civic practices’ to explain how social mobilization is fomented in daily life. Environmental civic practices link private and public spheres through discourse that draws attention to the importance of sustainable consumption and by infusing sustainable consumption practices (e.g., shorter showers, better light bulbs) with a sense of efficacy for cultivating eco-social change. Our data reveal two key observations about environmental civic practices in local food movements. First, these practices are used primarily to open up opportunities for ethical consumption, thus bringing a collective dimension to bear on individual consumption decisions. Secondly and relatedly, this observation underscores the way that contemporary responses to ecological issues are embedded in power structures, understandings of what constitutes good etiquette, and a belief that good citizenship is tightly coupled with responsible consumption choices. Theories of social practice have the potential to explore the liminal space that synthesizes private and public spheres, and this space offers the potential to cultivate substantial pro-environmental change.

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