A brief history of the Programme
Reviewed by Elizabeth Shove and Dale Southerton.
The European Science Foundation (ESF), supported by subscriptions from a range of national research councils, funds exchanges, summer schools and workshops with the aim of adding European value to already existing research activity. In 1995 the ESF launched a second social science programme on the environment.
The "Tackling Environmental Resource Management" programme (TERM) invited European social researchers to submit bids in response to four thematic areas, one of which was titled "the comparative dynamics of consumption and production processes".Elizabeth Shove and Michael Jacobs from Lancaster University, UK; Inge Ropke from the Technical University, Denmark; Hal Wilhite from the University of Oslo prepared an ultimately successful proposal for a three part sequence of events consisting of a workshop followed by a programme of exchanges and a further workshop to report on the results of the exchanges.
The paths of social science researchers working on sustainability and the environment have rarely crossed with those focusing on the theories and practices of consumption. To make the picture more complex, these concerns have quite different meaning and significance in, say, economics as compared with sociology or anthropology. One of the challenges of this programme was, in short, to see what sense the steering group and twenty-five or so workshop participants could make of the opportunity to draw together themes of consumption, sustainability and everyday life and to see what new perspectives and positions would emerge from this broth? Participants were drawn from Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the USA, and came with disciplinary backgrounds in economics, environmental science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, market and consumer research, design and management.
Looking back, it is possible to identify persistent threads. Researchers of all persuasions were concerned to explain how environmentally relevant consumption practices change. Hence parallel interests in historical and cross-cultural comparison and in understanding the co-evolution of practices and complex socio-technical systems. In this respect, the workshop-exchange programme really did explore the malleability of demand and the negotiability of social and cultural practice. In other ways, the clashing of participants and perspectives generated a number of entirely unanticipated sparks: for example, concerning the dual role of consumers as citizens, the significance of convenience and the (consumer and environmental) importance of managing time and space, the different dynamics of demand (or not) in countries as varied as Turkey and Denmark, and so on. The process of debate and exchange also led at least some participants to question and challenge the contemporary relevance of traditional approaches to the analysis of belief, attitude and behaviour.
The links below will take you to ‘historical’ descriptions of past events further down this page. Those descriptions will provide you with links to further pages and papers associated with those events.
The starting point.
the funding was certain the steering group met to turn the proposal into
practice. At that first meeting we edged away from the
consumption-production divide, reflecting that it was, after all, the
linkage between the two (both conceptually and in everyday life) which
really counted and convincing ourselves that such a distinction obscured
more than it clarified when it came to generating new ideas about
constructing our own "rules of the game" we sought to create a
context in which participants had no option but to confront
cross-cutting and unfamiliar themes and in which they would be obliged
to think new thoughts. This approach led us to invite contributors to
the ways in which different social sciences conceptualise and define
well being, welfare and the quality of life.
the shifting boundaries of state and market in the organisation of
individual and collective consumption
the environmental (and other) significance of socio-technical change and
the organisation of everyday life.
questions about time, the speeding up of everyday life, and the
distribution of consumption relating to work and leisure.
conclusion of the first workshop comprised a rather elaborate voting
process, participants re-grouped around the five most
"popular" topics (or clusters of topics). These were:
exploring the relationship between individual attitudes and collective
consumption in different countries
examining decisions which structure consumers' choices for example
relating to the design and funding of infrastructure
focusing on one environmentally critical object (e.g. the freezer) and
its sociotechnical history and future in different countries
developing a cross cultural comparison of social markers and the meaning
associated with high and low (environmental) impact consumption
considering the framing and politics of public decision-making
(affecting consumer practice and environmental impact) and public
perceptions of policy making.
the last session of the workshop, sub-groups met to plan possible
exchanges and develop outline proposals about what they might do with
their time, how they would pool resources, ideas and expertise and what
materials they would produce for the second workshop.
strategy of allowing participants to control the programme in this way,
led in the end to four exchange proposals:
Symbolic meanings of high and low impact daily consumption practices in
different cultures (focusing on transport, food, cooking, and
Freezing consumption - a review of the history and future of the freezer
in Norway, Finland and the UK
Environmental values, attitudes and behaviour: consumption as a social
Environmental innovation in consumption and the development of a
sustainable infrastructure (with reference to car-pooling, renewable
domestic heating systems, and the re-use of lake water)
comparison with the initial TERM call for proposals, and even with
respect to our own plans, the content of the "consumption
sustainability and everyday life" project had changed quite
dramatically. The ESF's aims, only a step or two back, were to study
"the evolution of society's relations with the environment, its
industrial and social metabolism" and to do so "by focusing on
the way products and services are produced, and consumed." After
just one workshop, those involved in the exchange process have
translated these grand ambitions into a series of very specific
proposals to examine pressure-cookers, bicycles, fridges, freezers,
transport choices, car-pooling and new technologies of house building.
some extent this radical re-focusing is perfectly understandable. One
defining feature of a potential exchange topic is that it offers a
recognisable point of reference - it is something to which people feel
able to contribute from their various perspectives. Partly because of
their seemingly narrow empirical orientation, the exchange proposals
promised to allow researchers from different disciplines and countries
to work together and in the process spin off new ideas at the interface
of consumption and environmental research.
back from the specific cases and topics at stake, the four exchanges
were, in a different sense, designed to be "about" a range of
more familiar conceptual issues such as the malleability and cultural
variety of meaning (and the environmental implications which follow);
the ways in which environmentally problematic forms of consumption
become "normal"; the relationship (or not) between
environmental commitments and everyday practices; and the nature and
location of decision-making which determines the structuring of
environmentally harmful (or beneficial) options open to individual
consumers and households.
To go to the web page first workshop, please clickhere. It is out of date, but gives a fuller picture of the exchange, and has links to associated papers.
Exchange 1: Social Markers: Symbolic meanings of high and low impact daily consumption practices in different cultures (focusing on transport, food, and hygiene).
Exchange 4: Infrastructures, innovation and design: Environmental innovation in consumption and the development of a sustainable infrastructure.
links to a page on the last summer school should be available shortly. You can access an index of online versions of the 15 papers that made up the reader fro the summer school by clicking here.
Infrastructures of Consumption and the Environment, ESF Winter Workshop at Wageningen University, November 2000
Utility infrastructures and institutions are undergoing rapid reconfiguration across Europe, fuelling widespread interest in the processes of change and igniting debates over the environmental and consumer issues at stake. With the far-reaching implications of utility restructuring in mind, the European Science Foundation funded a workshop on Infrastructures of Consumption and the Environment, as part of its TERM programme (Tackling Environmental Resource Management; see). The workshop explored diverse interdisciplinary understandings of how energy, water, waste and transport sectors are being transformed and re-connect these to concerns over sustainable service provision.
The event was held in Wageningen University, the Netherlands, from 25th-27th November 2000, bringing together participants from across Europe, including invited experts, young researchers, utility providers and policy professionals, to tackle some critical questions:
To find out more about the Winter Workshop, including access to many online papers, please click here.