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Reclaiming consumption: sustainability, social networks, and urban context Open Access


Other title
Sustainable consumption
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Kennedy, Emily Huddart
Supervisor and department
Krogman, Naomi (Rural Economy)
Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
Haan, Michael (Sociology Adjunct)
Examining committee member and department
Carolan, Michael (Sociology, Colorado State University)
Adkin, Laurie (Political Science)
Rural Economy

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
A social practices theoretical framework and mixed methodology are used to explore household sustainable daily practices in Edmonton, AB. Sustainable daily practices involve those actions undertaken by households to minimize their impact on the environment (e.g., cycling to avoid driving). Because social practice theory considers the reciprocity between agency and structure in establishing habitual routines, this perspective allows for the integration of competing theoretical explanations in the study of sustainable consumption (i.e., treadmill theory and consumer “lock-in”). Qualitative interviews are used to shed light on how peer-to-peer learning within a network of ecological citizens sustains individuals’ commitment to reducing consumption. Acting as a group is part of reclaiming consumption, as is the attempt to alter local social context to lessen barriers for others to live more sustainably. Barriers include built infrastructure and social norms. Members of the network described in the qualitative phase reside in a central neighbourhood. Unlike suburban neighbourhoods, the central area is within cycling distance of the downtown and university areas, has walking access to shops and services, and is adjacent to a large natural area with multi-use trails. In this central neighbourhood, residents interviewed meet frequently and informally with other households in the area also interested in sustainable living. In contrast, households interviewed in suburban areas describe a sense of isolation from like-minded others and a paucity of neighbours who inspire them to deepen their commitment to the environment (i.e., through positive reinforcement or knowledge-sharing). To further understand the influence of neighbourhood – as a structural feature – on daily practices, a survey instrument is used to compare a central urban and a suburban neighbourhood. The quantitative data are used in a cluster analysis resulting in four subgroups of households. The clusters do not differ greatly on socio-demographic variables, but are strongly differentiated by neighbourhood of residence. Thus the thesis concludes that reclaiming consumption, or reducing one’s consumption in concert with others, is more easily achieved in an area with public meeting points, the presence of other households committed to reducing consumption, and the opportunity to conspicuously display one’s daily practices around sustainable consumption.
License granted by Emily Huddart Kennedy ( on 2011-02-10T21:07:54Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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