We welcome contact from any researchers interested in collaborating with the Consumption & Change theme – including for Marie Curie fellowships, RCUK/Horizon 2020 proposals, or as a visiting PhD student – so please get in touch. Should you be interested in undertaking a visiting fellowship, there are no bench fees.
We welcome enquiries from potential PhD or ProfDoc students on topics, issues, themes, conceptual approaches and/or theoretical perspectives that complement the ongoing work in the Consumption & Change theme. Examples of the sorts of research questions and fields that could complement the theme are below but we encourage applicants to bring their own ideas, passions and interests to their PhD proposals. You might also want to take a look at the 1-page overview of the Consumption & Change theme, available here.
We're happy to jointly supervise projects with other GSI themes and with colleagues from other departments across ARU. Before applying formally, feel free to contact Rosie Robison and/or Chris Foulds with an informal enquiry (including a CV and a few paragraphs outlining your particular interest). You might also want to look at postgraduate opportunities across the GSI, and see entry requirements and fees.
Moving home, having a baby, starting a new job, or beginning university are significant moments in people's lives. Many researchers posit that at such moments, people are open to making other changes – including, perhaps, sustainable consumption. Is this actually the case? What do contrasting theoretical perspectives have to say about this? Whether or not we are more susceptible to making other changes, why and how do we make almost instantaneous changes to how we live our everyday lives (and thus how we consume) at certain moments in our lives? For instance, do we re-define what it is to be thermally comfortable in our homes after having a baby?
Some have opted for environmentally-friendly lifestyles that shape almost everything they do. This could include, for instance, growing their own food, never flying, having their thermostat set relatively low, only buying energy-efficient appliances, and recycling/reusing as many items as possible. But how and why have they opted to live in this way? What has made them begin to re-negotiate what was perhaps at one time 'non-negotiable'? Do they prioritise certain environmental-friendly actions over others, and does performing these remove any guilt associated with not doing others?
Many common climate change rhetorics centre around temporality: we need to urgently change how we are consuming resources, so as to minimise the long-term effects of climate change upon future generations. But how do these notions relate to the temporality of how everyday life is organised? How do different narratives, or ways of talking about climate change, characterise change itself? One viewpoint is that every action contributes to evolutionary change in our lives, another is that change is based on key 'triggers' and cause-effect relationships. What do these different viewpoints imply for making the radical changes to our consumption patterns that are said to be so urgently required?
How is identity shaped by our practices (what we do) and who we perform these practices with (communities of practice)? How do these identities, which are associated with how we live our lives, create and maintain conflicts (e.g. between 'green' communities and their critics)? What happens when our identity is challenged, for example through encounters with those who do things differently do us?
Is why we perform an action as critical as what action we perform? How does the individual performance of an action (or a set of routinized actions, which form an individual performance of a practice) relate to the social organisation of that practice? Bearing in mind that the same action may be performed by two people, but on the basis of very different influences, what role does consciousness and individual decision-making actually play?
Policies have for decades attempted to make individuals more knowledgeable about, for instance, climate change, so as to convince and empower them to consume more sustainably. But, in addition to this, policies are now starting to advocate the rise of 'smart' technologies. These technologies have the potential to automate much of our technological interactions, on the basis of knowledge that the technologies themselves acquire about how we live our lives. Is making technologies more knowledgeable (as opposed to individuals) really the most appropriate solution? Will these technologies perform as expected, and how will the impacts of these technologies depend upon the assumptions and framings adopted by those designing these smart technologies ('scripting')?
In what ways might 'big data' help us better understand how and when society is consuming resources? For instance, energy monitoring of a housing development or household-level water use data for region can provide a basis for learning more about our patterns of use, particularly if used in conjunction with national time-use survey data. More research is needed on when and why we consume resources and perform certain activities, particularly in light of potential demand-side management initiatives which may seek to encourage or maybe even prohibit resource use at certain times of the day or year - these may become more common in the UK if we increase our reliance on renewable energies (with intermittent supply). Are there design aspects that 'big data' will not necessarily be best placed to predict?
Modelling has commonly focused on individual decision-making and individual behaviours. The more sophisticated models have attempted to account for complexity by including individual attitudes, beliefs and/or values. However, more recently, an alternative argument has been gaining more traction: that practices (routinised behaviours, such as cooking, showering, driving), which are in themselves socially organised, are recruiting individuals and thereby shaping what people do. Therefore, the implicit suggestion is that modelling efforts could focus on how practices are organised and performed, as opposed to focusing on what individuals think. This could even mean creating models that have practices as the unit of analysis, rather than individuals and how they perform a practice.
How do policy-makers, and the array of professionals hoping to change how people consume, imagine the public? What assumptions do they adopt regarding how and why people consume food, energy and/or water? What sort of change are they targeting (and why), and how do they measure whether their policies/initiatives are successful? How does all of this compare to actual day-to-day experiences of people's everyday lives, and what could potential mismatches mean for our future consumption patterns and the effectiveness of sustainable consumption policies?
Consumption and change can rarely be described by linear relationships between distinct actors. Instead, there are numerous inter-related and complex relationships between a multitude of actors. As such, some actors, organisations and even technologies act as intermediaries, whereby knowledge flows through them en-route to other actors, organisations or technologies. So what is the role of these intermediaries in brokering knowledge, contributing to learning, and potentially even changing how people consume? Can these intermediaries (or 'boundary objects') represent an obstacle to sustainable consumption policies? For example, has a disengagement of estate agents had a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of Energy Performance Certificates? Also, how are these intermediaries tied up within, as well as directly contributing to, the maintenance of social conventions (eg interior designers selling products that reinforce ideals of a 'good home')?
How far do our actions lead from, or relate to our conscious thoughts? And are personal attributes, such as our beliefs and values, stable enough to be meaningfully measured and used as indicators of behaviours? Many policies and pro-environmental initiatives are built on such foundations. However some researchers would argue that we do not always know exactly why we act, and that it is possible to hold two or more conflicting thoughts, feelings or values at one time. In recent years, ideas about mindfulness, self-reflection, and dealing with the emotional (such as inner conflict) in order to make progress in sustainability have come more to the fore, particularly in environmental psychosocial studies. To what extent have these ideas been embraced, and with what results?