Swamped in dinosaurs with LED lights: negotiating sustainability in a high-consumption society

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Ulrikke Wethal University of Oslo, Norway

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Arve Hansen University of Oslo, Norway

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Thea Sandnes University of Oslo, Norway

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Unsustainable patterns of consumption in affluent societies are at the heart of global climate and environmental challenges and seemingly highly resistant to change. While decades of research have revealed how consumption is deeply embedded in society, recently calls have been made for (re-)engaging with the systemic conditioning of consumption in studies of everyday practices. In this paper, we analyse the ways in which eco-conscious households in Norway (N=20) perform and negotiate sustainability in everyday life. With theories of practice as a point of departure, we combine Bente Halkier’s work on social interaction with Sherry B. Ortner’s conceptualisation of agency as power (dominance and resistance) and agency through ‘projects’ to study how sustainability is negotiated in the everyday. Through this framework we explore how consumers perform ‘sustainability projects’ and how these are defined through, constrained by and negotiated against everyday normativity and dominant socio-material arrangements. Our findings demonstrate the compromises, trade-offs and negotiations that participants engage in when balancing their sustainability projects against other social roles, expectations and goals, often carried out within socio-material arrangements that are scripted towards less sustainable options. Hence, they provide detailed insight into the boundedness of consumer agency, being both socially and materially negotiated and contextualised. While often undertaken as mundane actions, the challenges our participants experienced is ultimately part of negotiating consumer society, often experienced as a constant pressure towards more consumption as expansive consumption is embedded in, and embodied and habituated through, a wide range of social practices.

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Ulrikke Wethal University of Oslo, Norway

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Arve Hansen University of Oslo, Norway

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Thea Sandnes University of Oslo, Norway

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