Year of Publication

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cliggett

Abstract

This dissertation is an attempt to examine how humans in wealthy, post-industrial urban contexts understand sustainability and respond to their concerns given their sphere of influence. I focus specifically on sustainable consumption policy and practice in Sweden, where concerns for sustainability and consumer-based responses are strong. This case raises interesting questions about the relative strength of sustainability movements in different cultural and geo-political contexts as well as the specific factors that have motivated the movement toward sustainable living in Sweden.

The data presented here supports the need for multigenic theories of sustainable consumerism. Rather than relying on dominant theories of reflexive modernization, there is a need for locally and historically grounded analyses. The Swedish case illustrates that the relative strength of sustainable living is linked not only to high levels of awareness about social, economic and ecological threats to sustainability, but also to a strong and historically rooted emphasis on equality in Sweden. In this context, sustainable living is often driven by concerns for global equity and justice. The research therefore affirms the findings of those like Hobson (2002) and Berglund and Matti (2005) who argue that concerns for social justice often have more resonance with citizen-consumers - driving more progressive lifestyle changes than personal self-interest.

Yet despite the power of moral appeals, this research also suggests that the devolution of responsibility for sustainability - to citizens in their roles as consumers on the free market – has failed to produce significant change. While many attribute this failure to “Gidden’s Paradox” or the assumption that people will not change their lifestyles until they see and feel risks personally, the data presented here illustrates that even those most committed to sustainable living confront structural barriers that they do not have the power to overcome. The paradox is not that people can’t understand or act upon threats to sustainability from afar; but rather that it is extremely difficult to live more sustainably without strong social support, market regulation and political leadership. Sustainability policy must work to confront the illusion of choice by breaking down structural barriers, particularly for people who do not have the luxury of choosing alternatives.

Share

COinS