Reclaiming consumption: sustainability, social networks, and urban context

  • Author / Creator
    Kennedy, Emily Huddart
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2011
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.