The onset of anthropogenic climate change and international efforts to reduce carbon emissions has accelerated efforts to promote sustainable forms of transport and mobility. Traditionally, nation states, local authorities, and their agencies have regarded behavioral change as a key tool for reducing carbon emissions from transport. In so doing, they have focused attention on information-led campaigns, which have sought to encourage individuals to modify their travel behaviors. Yet social practice theorists have argued that individualistic approaches to behavioral change, which are often rooted in positivistic framings of linear decision making, are unlikely to be successful because they overlook the critical importance of socio-economic contexts. This chapter explores the ways in which social practice theories can set a new trajectory for exploring sustainable mobility, through opening up the debate to consider how built environments and economic systems lead to ever increasing demands for mobility and how, if we are ambitious, we can use the sustainable mobility question to start a new debate about why we need to travel in the ways we do, and how the places we live can be developed as spaces for dwelling, rather than spaces of mobility.
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In response to conclusions that a continuation of ‘business as usual’ will lead to pervasive negative socio-ecological impacts, growing numbers of researchers are calling for proactive transitions in economic, political, and energy systems. Missing, however, is a clear sense of how to effect such changes. Among the obstacles to more intentional societal change are a dominant paradigm that prioritizes individual behavior and the role of consumerism in addressing urgent environmental problems, and the absence of a general theory of how social life, and thus social change, works. Social practice theories have emerged as an antidote to the first problem, but without an organizing theory of social practice they have not been well integrated into socio-ecological research and policy. Here, I discuss figurational theory and its value as a general social theory at a high level of synthesis. Contextualizing social practice theories within this larger theoretical framework, I argue, renders them more practice-able and generates new possibilities for social practice research to inform transition efforts.
Julia Backhaus, Harald Wieser and René Kemp
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.
Emily Huddart Kennedy and Tyler Bateman
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.
Naomi T. Krogman, Maurie J. Cohen and Emily Huddart Kennedy
Francesca Forno, Cristina Grasseni and Silvana Signori
Contemporary societal analyses often contrast consumers and citizens as having competing roles. In the highly individualized ‘consumer society’, the profit-driven, calculating consumer is often opposed to the citizen who should act in the name of the public good. Yet many contemporary social movements address consumers precisely in their capacity to leverage societal change and environmental sustainability. Some try to move beyond political consumerism as a form of merely individual responsibility to develop fully fledged, citizenship-driven alternative styles of provisioning. Italy’s Solidarity Purchase Groups are a particularly interesting case study. Our work unveils the collective processes of their mobilization. These groups aim not only to exercise ethical or critical consumption but also to co-produce common benefits, to intervene in local food-provisioning chains, and to reintroduce issues of social and environmental sustainability in regional economies. They sometimes explicitly express the ambition of participating in public governance. On the basis of detailed quantitative and qualitative research on Solidarity Purchase Groups in Italy, this chapter contextualizes such dynamics within the theoretical framework of sustainable citizenship as social practice. Our thesis is that political consumerism may well be not only the objective, but also frequently the result, of engaged practices of direct democracy. Keywords: solidarity purchase groups, critical consumption, new forms of political participation, social movements, individual and collective responsibility.