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From Consumerism to Wellbeing: Toward a Cultural Transition?


As it becomes evident that technology alone is unlikely to fully counteract the ecological impacts of consumer society, the debate increasingly focuses on a need to shift beyond the consumerist economy and culture. This paper considers how a cultural shift toward less consumerist lifestyle choices might originate, driven not by moral imperatives or environmental movements, but by the core pursuit of human wellbeing. Our goal is to jumpstart a serious conversation about plausible pathways to change, grounded theoretically and empirically. The history of consumer society is a reminder that cultural transformation of that magnitude could occur in a relatively short period of time. We hypothesize, drawing on demographic and economic trends, that technologically connected, educated, and open to change millennials might lead the way in that transition. Their diminishing interest in suburban life in favor of cities, constricted economic opportunities, and their size and interconnectedness all point in that direction. We envision a scenario in which the core understanding of wellbeing will change through the combined effects of changing lifestyles, adaptation to the economic, technological and demographic realities, and emerging new social practices. Extensive research on wellbeing suggests that such reframing can readily incorporate a shift away from consumerist lifestyles. To succeed, this shift needs government support at all levels through policies that enable young urban families to thrive.
From consumerism to wellbeing: toward a cultural transition?
Halina Szejnwald Brown
, Philip J. Vergragt
Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA
Tellus Institute, Boston, MA, USA
article info
Article history:
Received 21 January 2014
Received in revised form
16 April 2015
Accepted 22 April 2015
Available online xxx
Sustainable consumption
Cultural change
Beyond consumerism
As it becomes evident that technology alone is unlikely to fully counteract the ecological impacts of
consumer society, the debate increasingly focuses on a need to shift beyond the consumerist economy
and culture. This paper considers how a cultural shift toward less consumerist lifestyle choices might
originate, driven not by moral imperatives or environmental movements, but by the core pursuit of
human wellbeing. Our goal is to jumpstart a serious conversation about plausible pathways to change,
grounded theoretically and empirically. The history of consumer society is a reminder that cultural
transformation of that magnitude could occur in a relatively short period of time. We hypothesize,
drawing on demographic and economic trends, that technologically connected, educated, and open to
change millennials might lead the way in that transition. Their diminishing interest in suburban life in
favor of cities, constricted economic opportunities, and their size and interconnectedness all point in that
direction. We envision a scenario in which the core understanding of wellbeing will change through the
combined effects of changing lifestyles, adaptation to the economic, technological and demographic
realities, and emerging new social practices. Extensive research on wellbeing suggests that such
reframing can readily incorporate a shift away from consumerist lifestyles. To succeed, this shift needs
government support at all levels through policies that enable young urban families to thrive.
This paper is about the United States because it a global leader in the creation of the consumer society,
with a per-capita ecological footprint about twice that of Europe, and with many emulators across the
world. We contend that the US-grounded analysis presented in this paper has relevance for other parts of
the world, and that it can inform research and debate on similar cultural transitions in other national
©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Since the end of the Second World War the USA has been
transformed into a society where the national economy depends to
a large extent on private consumption; and where mass acquisition
and use of material goods is the dominant lifestyle, the centerpiece
of social practices, leisure time, cultural rituals and celebrations. We
refer to it as consumer society.
The ecological costs of this transformation have been high.
While technological improvements in resource efciency have
slowed down the relentless growth in demand for materials, water
and energy, they have not kept up with the growing demand, much
less attain radical reductions in demand. It is becoming increasingly
apparent that technology alone will not solve the ecological
unsustainability problem. The returns on energy investments in
producing useful energy sources eboth fossil-based and others e
are much lower than in the past (Zehner, 2011; Gupta and Hall,
2011; Murphy, 2013). The rebound effects of various types are
now a widely acknowledged and quantied phenomenon (Owen,
2011; Jenkins et al., 2011; IRGS, 2013). And the institutional and
organizational barriers for rapid technological changes are formi-
dable (Sterman, 2014a). Reductions in consumption levels are
necessary as well.
Consumer society is a complex system of technology, culture,
institutions, markets, and dominant business models. It is driven by
the ideology of neoliberalism and innite growth. It has evolved
through a sophisticated exploitation of the fundamental human
quest for a meaningful life and wellbeing (Skidelsky and Skidelsky,
2012; Sterman, 2014b; Speth, 2008; Lorek and Fuchs, 2013). To
consider reducing its ecological costs is to question this entire
complex system, and especially consumerism as the organizing
*Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (H.S. Brown),
(P.J. Vergragt).
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Please cite this article in press as: Brown, H.S., Vergragt, P.J., From consumerism to wellbeing: toward a cultural transition?, Journal of Cleaner
Production (2015),
principle for the economy, culture, and political process. In essence,
a transition beyond consumerism would entail a society-wide
evolution toward different lifestyles and conceptions of well-
being, as well as a transformation of the system.
Questioning the consumer society has become increasingly
vocal during the past decade, largely under the banner of sus-
tainable consumption; scores of books, articles, special journal
issues, ofcial reports, and countless conferences and workshops
have been dedicated to this theme. At the same time, the contours
of such alternative society remain rather vague, and so is the un-
derstanding of how a transition beyond mass consumerism might
take place. The debate emphasizes various mechanisms and change
agents: from considering the role of small scale out-of-the-
mainstream social innovations and experiments (Brown and
Vergragt, 2008; Seyfang, 2009) to more instrumental approaches,
such as altering human motivations through government policies
(Lorek and Fuchs, 2013; Spangenberg, 2014; Schapke and
Rauschmayer, 2014); to meso-level considerations of evolving so-
cial practices (Shove et al., 2007; Halkier, 2013; Spaargaren, 2013),
socio-technical regimes (Geels and Schot, 2007; Kemp and Van
Lente, 2013), and new business models not calibrated for unlim-
ited growth (Kelly, 2012); to macro-level policies, such as aban-
doning the economic growth paradigm in national policy (Harris,
2013; Jackson, 2009; Kallis, 2011), introducing new scal policies
like carbon taxes (Parry et al., 2014), or mobilizing social move-
ments toward a different type of economy, institutions and ethics
(Raskin, 2011).
The dilemma is that widely accepted theories of social change
have limited applicability for critical analysis of the above ideas.
Since the 1980s a rich body of theories of social change has
emerged in the elds of social movement studies, organizational
theory, economic sociology, historical institutionalism in political
science, as well as the most recent effort to develop a unifying
synthesis of those (Fligstein and McAdam, 2012). They conceptu-
alize social change as primarily involving contestation between
self-aware incumbents and challengers with specic agendas and
alternative collective visions of the future.
But we should not assume that this is how the evolution beyond
mass consumerism will take place. In fact, we propose that the
change is more likely to start more inconspicuously, as a bottom-up
cultural shift toward different lifestyles and conceptions of wellbeing.
Partly, this is because of the complexity of the system, in which a
target for a challenge is unclear, where multiple targets are inter-
dependent, and where potential incumbents and challengers have
multiple interests and loyalties. Furthermore, no plausible chal-
lenger seems to be emerging. The government is unlikely to lead
any initiatives that may directly challenge economic growth. The
private sector is similarly committed to growth and increased
consumption. And there is little evidence so far that major NGOs
have sustainable consumption on their agendas. From a theoretical
perspective, the conception of a transitioning beyond consumerism
presented in this paper is more consistent with Olin Wright's
(2012) framework for social change, which envisions an incre-
mental process through inltrationof new economic and insti-
tutional models from niches into the interstitial spaces of the
dominant system. The latter framework though would need further
development through a robust empirical evidence and by
addressing cultural, in addition to political and economic, changes.
This paper considers how a change beyond mass consumerism
might begin in the US through the combined processes of (1)
emerging shifting lifestyle preferences among young generation;
and (2) necessary adaptations to the present economic, techno-
logical and demographic realities. The underlying assumption of
this analysis is two-fold: that any change in individual and collec-
tive lifestyles must be tied to the core human strive for a
meaningful life and wellbeing; and that the transition does not
need to be driven by ecological concerns or moral imperatives
(though these are by no means precluded). Both assumptions stem
partly from the abundance of research ndings that ecological
concerns, even among the most committed and well-informed
activists, produce small changes in consumption behaviors, and
are of signicant magnitude only among the most committed tiny
minority of activists (Bowerman, 2014). Furthermore, we contend
that only the fundamental strive for meaning and wellbeing in life
has the kind of power and constant presence that is necessary for
radical changes in people's lifestyle choices and priorities.
This paper asks the following questions: What lessons can be
drawn from the history of consumer society and from the large
body of research on happiness and wellbeing to inform our
thinking about cultural transition beyond consumerism? Can the
very meaning of wellbeing be framed in a new way, one that is
radically less dependent on mass consumption and materialism?
What factors might play a role in such a cultural shift? Who might
lead the transition? Is there evidence for such a shift taking place?
The analysis draws on the history of consumer society (its delib-
erate construction and its rapid emergence), the scholarly literature
on human happiness and wellbeing, and on the documented
contemporary societal developments. We formulate informed hy-
potheses and present a rudimentary scenario of how a cultural
transformation might take place in the near future. While
acknowledging alternative scenarios that have been put forth for a
putative transformation beyond the consumerist culture, the goal
of this one is to frame the debate and to guide further research.
This paper mainly focuses on the United States. Much of what
research explains about human strive for well-being and about the
forces that have created eand continue to do so econsumer soci-
eties worldwide, is universal. However, the United States has been
the global leader in the construction of consumer society: histori-
cally, structurally and in terms of outcomes. The low-density sub-
urban model of well-being has been perfected in the US and is an
aspiration of the majority of its population; the US home sizes, the
ownership of private material possessions, and driving distances
greatly outpace those in other rich European countries; its per-capita
ecological footprint is about twice that of Europe (Global Footprint
Network, 2015); and the US economic model is emulated by many
rapidly developing economies in the world. Finally, we write about
the United States because we live here and are concerned about its
future and its global impact. At the same time we seek to stimulate
researchersin other parts of the world to reect on the likely paths to
a similar cultural transition in their own national contexts.
The paper proceeds as follows. The next section provides a
historical account of the rapid emergence of consumer society
during the rst two decades after the end of the Second World War,
which in a span of a single generation transformed the American
economy and lifestyles, and profoundly affected the perception of
well-being. Section three discusses the limitations of consumer
society in delivering on its many promises, and concludes that in
the face of the great stability of this complex system, change
beyond consumerism needs to be bottom up, through changing
lifestyles and re-framing of the very concept of wellbeing. Section
four explores this hypothesis by drawing on the literature on
wellbeing and happiness in the context of material consumption,
and leads, in part ve, to a proposition that the changing aspira-
tions, lifestyles choices, and broader circumstances of the large
millennial generation may make them the most likely place for the
advent of a cultural shift. The article ends, in part six, with re-
ections on the potential relevance of the emergent sharing
economy and the new economymovement as facilitators of the
cultural transition, followed by a discussion in part seven and a
Challenge in part eight.
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2. Constructing the consumer society
The story of the emergence of consumer society in the US has
been told numerous times and from various angles (here, we draw
on several sources: Garon, 2012; Ewens, 1998; Cohen, 2004;
Botsman and Rogers, 2010; Gallagher, 2013;Higgs, 2014). We
briey summarize it here in order to highlight how rapid and well-
coordinated that social change was, despite the complexity
involved ethe economy, infrastructure, land use, institutions,
lifestyles, and cultural norms eand how closely linked to the
moment in history in which it took place.
Its advent is generally placed in the rst two decades of the
twentieth century. In this period, marketing experts and major
think tanks, supported by big business, laid the groundwork for
consumer society. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund
Freund, who lived and worked in the US, is considered one of the
founders of the principles of modern mass advertising. Having
honed his skills by putting in place a government pro-war effort
propaganda during the First World War, Bernays used the psy-
choanalytic insights of his famous uncle to develop methods for
engineering wants and turning them into habitual practices of
everyday life. He is credited with using mass media to create public
acceptance of women smoking cigarettes (Botsman and Rogers,
2010, pp. 21e23; Ewens, 1998;Higgs, 2014). The National Associ-
ation of Manufacturers supported think tanks and various cam-
paigns to create a demand for domestic goods, and popularized the
term consumerwhile referring to the American people.
By the 1930s both the government and labor unions, in addition
to private business, actively supported the consumerist lifestyles of
the population as the path to full employment and improved living
conditions. The creation of Social Security in 1935 facilitated the
transition to mass consumption by relieving Americans from the
need to save for old age. The US entry into the Second World War
briey slowed down this trend while government conducted
vigorous campaign to promote frugality and family savings in
support of the war effort. Similar campaigns took place in Europe
and Japan, but, as Garon (2012) notes, only in the US it came with a
promise of a future payback in the form of purchasing power: save
now, spend later after the war is over.
During the 1940s and 50s the massive project of creating con-
sumer society took off in the earnest through the coordinated ef-
forts of business, labor unions and federal government.
Contemporary historians and sociologists have extensively
recounted the corporate strategies ethen and now eto grow
consumer demand through aggressive marketing and advertising,
tailored to various social, gender and age groups, including young
children (Cohen, 2004; Schor, 1992, 1998; 2004). The labor unions,
preoccupied with increasing the purchasing power of its members,
were willing partners of the corporate America. As early as 1944
American Federation of Labor (AFL) wrote Without adequate pur-
chasing power in the form of wages we cannot get full employment
(Cohen, 2004, p. 116); and the activist role of the federal govern-
ment cannot be underestimated.
The 1944 GI Bill helped returning war veterans to get free college
education as well as down payments and government-guaranteed
loans for purchasing homes and other goods. The mortgage inter-
est deductions and government-nanced infrastructure (utilities,
roads, interstate highway system, among others) made home
ownership a logical nancial plan for families. That the federal
government considered it to be its major responsibility to help
create post-war prosperity through mass consumption is best
illustrated in the Employment Act of 1946, the major piece of
legislation regarding national economic planning: federal govern-
ment's responsibility
. [is to]
promote maximum employment,
production, and purchasing power(Cohen, 2004, p.116).
The results were astonishing. National output of goods and
services doubled between 1946 and 1956, and doubled again by
1970, with private consumption expenditures settling at about two
thirds of the GDP (today it is 70% of GDP). By 1960, 62% of Ameri-
cans owned their homes, compared to 44% in 1940. The construc-
tion industry, aided by the 1926 single-use zoning law, applied new
methods of mass production of cheap and comfortable single
family homes to convert large tracks of farm land and forest,
increasingly removed form city centers, to suburbs that were
completely dependent on car-based mobility (with the iconic 1949
Levittown on Long Island, NY, becoming its model) (Cohen, 2004;
Gallagher, 2013). The massive demographic phenomenon of the
exodus from cities to suburbs was so rapid that in 1960 suburban
residents of single family homes outnumbered both urban and
rural dwellers (Cohen, 2004, p.126). The private suburban shopping
mall became the public space estratied by race and income e
replacing the previously more egalitarian public spaces of city
streets, cafes, and places of commerce. Performance of the housing
construction sector became an ofcial indicator of the national
economic wellbeing, the practice that continues in the US to this
At the peak of the cold war, American lifestyles also served as an
important symbol of the superiority of the capitalist system over
the soviet-style socialism. In the famous kitchendebate between
Vice President Nixon and Soviet Premier Khrushchev at the
American Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, Nixon boasted: The
United States come closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless
We not do wish to have decisions made at the top by gov-
ernment ofcials about
the kind of housesor the kind of ideas
(cited in Cohen (2004; p.127). Cohen continues: Faith in a mass
consumption postwar economy hence came to mean much more than
the ready availability of goods to buy. Rather, it stood for an elaborate,
integrated ideal of economic abundance and democratic political
freedom, both equitably distributed, that became almost a national
civil religion from the late 1940s into the 1970s.
In short, a major cultural and economic transition took place in
the US in a span of not much more than a single generation. This
transition occurred through simultaneous efforts of government,
organized labor, and the manufacturing sector. These power cen-
ters understood the window of opportunity that opened at that
particular historical juncture: the huge post-war industrial over-
capacity, the national euphoria over its uncontested political and
economic power and endless possibilities, a demographic boom,
the post-Depression hunger for a better life, and technological
advances and industrial capacity that made material goods more
accessible than ever. The transition not only changed lifestyles of
most Americans in profound ways, but also fostered a cultural shift:
consumerism and suburban lifestyle became conated with such
fundamental aspirations as wellbeing, freedom, and democracy.
3. The limits and downsides of the consumerist project
The consumerist economy has certainly created great national
wealth and lifted many boats. Today's American family lives in
better housing with more amenities than in the 1940s and 50s, and
even poor families have basic electric appliances and cars. But the
price of the economic growth is the ever accelerating pace of pri-
vate consumption. The size of an average new American home
increased from about 950 square feet in 1950 to about 2400 square
feet in 2010 (Calwell, 2010); the cycle of fashion and lifespan of
other material goods has rapidly decreased over time. By the 1980s,
when the middle class salaries began to stagnate and the tempo-
rary boost to family income by women entering the workforce
began to wear off, the American family began to support its
consumerist lifestyles through ever increasing personal debt
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(Garon, 2012; Schor, 1992, 1998, 20 04). The 2008 nancial collapse
exposed the magnitude of that bubble.
It is now well documented that the growing economy has not
delivered on the promise of wellbeing for all. For the middle class
families supported by two salaries the consumerist lifestyles
brought declining leisure time and economic insecurity (Schor,
1992, 1998); and the growing inequality in the distribution of na-
tional wealth evolved hand in hand with an array of social prob-
lems. Using a composite of sixteen indicators of social health,
Miringoff and Opdycke (2007) show that since 1970 the US soci-
ety has been losing ground. This is consistent with the ndings of
Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) who used a composite index of nine
indicators of public health and social problems to show that in
wealthy developed economies a further increase in wealth does not
improve general wellbeing. On the other hand, they found a strong
correlation between income inequality and social problems, with
the US having both the highest score for social problems and the
highest income inequality among the advanced economies. And the
happiness studies (discussed below), suggest that the sense of
contentment has not increased among Americans over the past
several decades (Pew, 2006).
Surveys actually show that most Americans eregardless of their
political leanings and views on the threat of global warming ethink
that we consume too much and should reduce it. But that perception
hardly translates into private behaviors; and policy elites are even
more reluctant to consider decreased consumption that the general
public (Bowerman, 2014). Part of the problem is the emotionally and
politically loaded nature of the idea of consuming less, which for
many people conjures images of retreat and loss. Furthermore,
consumption in people's lives is a complex phenomenon, highly
habituated, and enacted without conscious thought of their
ecological cost and absent questioning their contribution to well-
being (Shove et al., 2007; Spaargaren and Oosterveer, 2010).
Through technological innovations and aggressive marketing and
manipulation of desires, these social practices relentlessly evolve
toward more complexity, more functionality, and more seemingly
necessary uses (such as multiple refrigerators or bathrooms in a
standard house). In that process, they repeatedly redene what is
normal, basic, and necessary (Quitzau and Røpke, 2008).
Another barrier to change is the fact that socio-technical re-
gimes, such as, for example, automobility, food production and
consumption, and housing construction (the major determinants of
the ecological impact of consumerist lifestyles) are stable complex
structures, highly resistant to change (Geels and Schot, 2007; Kemp
and van Lente, 2013). Furthermore, the prevailing economic system
and power relations (especially in this age of dominant neoliberal
ideology) are so profoundly dependent on the ever-larger amounts
of material and energy throughput that neither policy makers nor
scholars nor activists have a vision of how to decouple the two
without triggering widespread disaster.
In the face of such systemic complexity and stability, it is not
surprising that mass consumerism as an engine of unsustainability
is hardly acknowledged in the US policy discourse, which is heavily
inuenced by business interests of large corporations, and focuses
largely on technological solutions and economic incentives for
energy conservation. Should such an acknowledgment materialize
in the near future, it is unrealistic to expect government to chal-
lenge mass consumption as the organizing principle of societal and
private life. Neither can we expect Walmart or Patagonia not to
want to sell us more and more stuff. And there is little evidence that
NGOs have consumption on their agendas. The change would have
to come from citizens in the form of changing priorities and
The history of emergence of mass consumerism shows that a
society-wide radical shift in lifestyles and aspirations can be rapid,
but gives few clues as to how a move from mass consumerism to its
alternative might proceed. What could initiate and maintain such
an evolution? It is unlikely that a moral imperative to protect the
earth's supporting system for future generations will be the driver,
based on the evidence accumulated over the years (Bowerman,
2014). Rather, we hypothesize that a collective reframing of the
idea of good life as less xated on materialism and high intensity
leisure activities, may be the engine of change. In the next section
we consider the possibility of such a cultural shift by drawing on
the large body of research on subjective wellbeing and happiness e
their meaning, determinants and connections to material wealth.
4. Material consumption and human wellbeing
During the past decade the sustainability discourse has incor-
porated the concepts of good life, wellbeing, and happiness as part
of the questioning the economic growth paradigm as a path toward
societal ourishing. The writings of Amartya Sen, Martha Nuss-
baum, Manfred Max-Neef and others on the universally applicable
elements of good life (objective wellbeing) have been used to frame
the debate (reviewed in, for example, Jackson, 2009; Di Giulio et al.,
2012; Jackson and Victor, 2013).
We nd the concept of subjective wellbeing more useful for this
paper because of its explicit links to lifestyle choices, including
material consumption. Since the pioneering work of Easterlin
(1973) and Inglehart and Klingemann (2000), scores of books and
articles have been published on the subject of subjective wellbeing
and happiness, from the economic, sociological and psychological
perspectives (in this brief review we draw principally on the works
of Graham, 2012; Layard, 2011; Skidelsky and Skidelsky, 2012,
which in turn build on a very large body of relevant scholarship,
mostly empirical in nature).
Despite controversies over denitions, metrics, study design,
and the validity of survey data, several shared understandings
about human happiness and subjective wellbeing have emerged to
date. One of those is the remarkable consistency and stability of
certain basic determinants of happiness across very different
countries and cultures, ranging from Afghanistan to the US: a stable
marriage, good health, community and friendships are good for
subjective wellbeing, and so are social trust and personal auton-
omy. Another consistent observation is that people judge the
emotional value of their material wealth in relation to others. Once
the basic subsistence needs are met, it is of greater importance to
have more than others than to have more. The third central
observation is that people are extremely adaptable and quickly get
used to new circumstances, with the sense of wellbeing tending
toward the pre-change state. This is true for both decreased and
increased material wealth, the latter leading to insatiability and the
so-called hedonic treadmill,as aspirations increase with income.
A more nuanced picture of the role of material wealth in
achieving subjective wellbeing can be teased out by distinguishing
between, on the one hand, wellbeing as an emotional state of
pleasure/contentment/joy (referred roughly as Benthamite
perspective) and, on the other hand, wellbeing as satisfaction
arising from evaluating one's life (referred to as Aristotelian
perspective). Both are determined by such fundamentals as health,
family, friendship, community, and security. But the former is more
linked to one's natural predisposition to cheerfulness, satisfaction
of basic subsistence needs, and meeting one's expectations. The
latter is a more complex evaluation, having to do with autonomy,
search for meaning, spirituality, commitment and ethical behavior,
and gaining respect, status, and a sense of achievement in life. In a
large study of Americans, Kahneman and Deaton (2010) found that
the index of emotional wellbeing increases with income up to a
certain point, beyond which additional income does not produce
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Production (2015),
incremental gains in wellbeing. On the other hand, the wellbeing as
evaluative life satisfaction correlates with income without showing
such signs of leveling off. Apart from the obvious possible inter-
pretation that money can buy life satisfaction, the latter nding
may have a different explanation: in the modern open society in-
come is a proxy for professional achievements and business success
relative to one's peers, which in turn confer respect, status and a
sense of achievement in life. Hence, more income correlates with
more satisfaction. In a different culture, in which personal
achievement were less strongly correlated with income than is the
case in the US, the observed correlation between life satisfaction
and income might level off after a certain level, just as the
emotional state of happiness does.
Clearly, these two human traits eforming one's sense of well-
being in relation to one's peers, and rapid adaptability to new cir-
cumstances eare important drivers of many people's pursuit of
wellbeing through accumulation of material wealth and its sym-
bols. The capitalist economy of course builds on that insatiability by
creating wants and monetizing success, and shaping aspirations
through displaying the lifestyles of the rich.
Some people reject the hedonic treadmill by choosing a simpler
life of more balance between work, leisure, and civic engagement.
The concept of voluntary simplicitywas popularized by Elgin in
the 1970s and received renewed attention over the past two de-
cades, both among scholars and writers of popular self-help books
(Schor, 1998; Paehlke, 1989; Elgin, 1997; Doherty and Etzoni, 2003;
De Graaf et al., 2001; Hammerslough, 2001). The term and the idea
are not new in the American cultural history, but in the recent
rendition it has taken a specic meaning: a reaction to the
consumerist values and lifestyles dominating the contemporary
culture, and their human and ecological price, a potential engine of
a major cultural change (Etzioni, 2003).
But despite a wide recognition of the concept and the term,
there is no evidence so far that the practice of voluntary simplicity
is moving into the mainstream. These ndings have lead some
advocates of less materialistic lifestyles to embrace the idea of a
mandated shorter workweek. The underlying logic is that working
and earning less would lead to diminished material consumption.
The payoff to individuals would be to have more leisure time, which
could then be spent, partly, on offsetting the decreased purchasing
power through self-provisioning, and partly on engaging with
family, friends, community, and civic life. The ground-breaking
macroeconomic modeling by Victor (2007) for the Canadian
economy suggests that shorter workweek could be achieved under
certain conditions without creating unemployment, and that the
ecological gains would be signicant.
The shorter workweek idea has been part of national economic
policies in Europe for decades, driven largely by the concerns about
unemployment and general wellbeing of populations. More
recently, it has been promoted as the means of reducing ecological
footprint and improving subjective wellbeing (Jackson, 2009;
Schor, 2010; NEF, 2010; Coote and Franklin, 2013; Rosnick, 2013).
But it remains mostly under-researched whether in the countries
with radically shorter workweek than in the US efor example,
Germany and the Netherlands eadditional leisure time has
translated to more community- and family-oriented activities, and
more self-provisioning (Jürgens and Reinecke, 1998). More impor-
tantly, in the US context such a policy proposal would have limited
traction both on the grounds of political feasibility and as an equity
issue; a relatively small segment of the population could actually
afford and benet from a shorter workweek (see Kallis et al., 2013
for an economic critique).
On the other hand, in the present post-Great Recession economy
the circumstances of many middle class people impose a tighter
personal budget and less consumption. But the reduced purchasing
power may not necessarily denote diminished wellbeing if it is
accompanied by meeting the basic subsistence needs, greater
mutual reciprocity, and deeply satisfying lifestyle choices. In the
next section we consider one such case: the millennial generation.
Our exploration centers on the notable emerging shifts in the pri-
orities among the millennials toward more urban lifestyles, and in
the context of their more constrained economic opportunities. The
main thesis is that the lifestyle of greater inter-dependency within
a community and more reliance on self-provisioning may
compensate for reduced purchasing power and in fact increase a
sense of wellbeing. It might, furthermore, facilitate an evolution of
the meaning of good life as fundamentally grounded in lifestyle
pursuits other than consumerism and accumulation of material
goods. While this proposition is at this point a hypothesis, onething
is certain: considering the great importance of one's standing in
relation to others in achieving wellbeing, and the obvious society-
wide nature of any cultural framing, such evolution of the meaning
of wellbeing can only occur if it is a collective process experienced by
a large and self-aware population.
5. Millennials and the city
The millennial generation, understood to comprise young peo-
ple in the age bracket of roughly 21e32 at the time of this writing in
2013 (the age cut-off varies between authors), comprising
approximately fty million people, is the largest demographic
group in the US since the post-WWII baby boomers. If we are
looking for putative signs of a cultural shift, this group is a good
place to start.
Based on a massive 2009 survey by Pew Research many of the
millennials can be described as connected, open to change, and
racially and ethnically more diverse than any other American
generation in history. They grew up with the internet and social
media technology and are entirely comfortable with it. Millennials
are more condent and optimistic than their elders were at the
same age: despite the fact that one third of them were not
employed when the survey was taken, and claimed not to have
enough money to live the way they want, ninety percent of survey
respondents believed that they will eventually meet their nancial
goals (Pew Research, 2010).
The most notable fact about millennials is their coming of age
during the era of diminishing middle class and uncertain nancial
prospects. This economic picture is striking. Between 1979 and
2007 the after-tax income of households in of the top 1% of income
distribution increased by 275% while the 60% of households in the
middle saw their income grow by just under 40% (Traub and
McGhee, 2013). During the slow recovery from the Great Reces-
sion, the incomes of most Americans, including those with college
degrees, have been at while the top 1% of earners increased theirs
by 11%. For the middle class Americans the social and economic
mobility, the very essence of the American dream, has stagnated or
declined in the U.S. since the late seventies, and recent data show
that young men are earning less than their fathers did 30 years ago
(Traub and McGhee, 2013). For American middle class the problem
is not only wages but also the soaring cost of childcare, health in-
surance and college education.
The second notable trend among millennials is their growing
interest in urban living, and their frequent disdain for the suburban
model of good life. Fully 77 percent of the survey respondents
indicated that they plan to live in city centers (Doherty and
Leinberger, 2011). And the applications for drivers licenses ea
coming of age ritual among the post WW II American youths ehave
been declining among the 16e24 yearolds since 1990 (Cohen, 2012).
In general, large US cities, especially those with public transit,
walkable streets, and strong economies, are experiencing a
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renaissance (Glaeser, 2011; Gallagher, 2013;Ehrenhalt, 2013), even
leading some researchers to proclaim the end of the suburbs
(Gallagher, 2013). While the latter may in the short run be a hy-
perbole, examples of the changing priorities for housing in the
United States abound, and are not related to political ideology. In
Denver, the values of homes in the car-dependent suburb of
Highland Ranch dropped by half during the Great Recession, while
those in the Lower Downtown Historic District (dubbed LoDo) have
increased. In Maryland, suburban McMansions with vaulted ceil-
ings and granite countertops are being converted into small
apartments for the needy; locally-nanced public transit is
emerging in improbable cities such as St. Louis and Salt Lake City
(Doherty and Leinberger, 2011;Ehrenhalt, 2013). This inux into
cities is driven primarily by millennials and the post-WWII baby
boomers, who together comprise half of the US population.
The recent interest in city life among the millennials is a gradual
trend but it is unmistakable (Adler, 2015). And it is a highly sig-
nicant social phenomenon in the US context, where only 4% of the
population lives in hyper-dense areas with more than 30 housing
units per acre (75 per hectare), while 82% of population lives in
areas that have four or less units per acre (10 per hectare)
(Chakrabarti, 2014). The high cost of housing in the trendy large
cities with multiple job opportunities is the principal deterrent to a
more rapid transition toward urban living among the millennials
who must compete with the well-to-do baby boomers for city
housing. Partly for that reason, and to take advantage of the cultural
trends among the populous millennials, some most car-dependent
afuent suburban towns and (on Long Island, for example) are now
lling in their downtowns around train stations with denser
mixed-use development and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes
(Adler 2105).
It is not clear at this point where these middle class urban or
urban-like places will grow, or how many of the currently urban
millennials will stay in the cities once they marry and have chil-
dren. But those who will become urban dwellers will very likely
have to redene their aspirations for good life in a way that does not
depend on amassing material possessions and consumerism. For
one thing, a home in a desirable city neighborhood is much smaller
than a suburban dwelling (which currently averages in the US at
2200 square feet, or 200 square meters). It is also expensive. These
add up to less space to ll with stuff and less discretionary income
available to purchase it. And though well-paying jobs are easier to
nd in the cities, the post-Great Recession economic opportunities
in the wealth-polarized America are highly constrained. Young
urban families will need to nd new ways to create livelihoods and
to provide for the basic necessities of everyday life. They will by
necessity have to depend on collaborative modes of organizing
housing, childcare and other types of caregiving, of procuring fresh
food and maintaining personal mobility. The currently growing
popularity of food co-ops, urban gardens and childcare co-ops in
the hip young neighborhoods of New York, San Francisco, and
others may be more than minor fads among urban elites; they may
be the harbingers of these new types of lifestyles. And the popular
systems of bartering, sharing, swapping, and other forms of the
sharing economy (discussed in the next section) may further
counterbalance tight budgets and living spaces.
The more collaborative, interdependent and reciprocal lifestyles
may offer advantages in terms of wellbeing. Organizing and
running collaborative living arrangements (including the un-
avoidable conicts and confrontations) engages people in personal
interactions, shortens distances, builds trust and develops social
identity. To the extent that having a sense of belonging in a com-
munity is one of the pillars of subjective wellbeing, these new ar-
rangements might richly compensate for the declining purchasing
power; and might signicantly contribute to framing of wellbeing
as less dependent on high intensity private consumption. The shift
toward urban living may have other consequences for creating the
sense of wellbeing. As Agyeman et al. (2013) notes, drawing on the
cases from around the world, shared public spaces ethe essence of
most urbanites' life ecan serve as places of physical activity, social
interaction, and as a social equalizer and the source of civic
participation: all contributing to subjective wellbeing. Finally, from
the ecological perspective, data show that the carbon footprint of
households strongly correlates with income (in the range of poor to
comfortable middle class), with most of the impacts attributable to
housing and individual mobility (Weber and Matthews, 2008); and
that the footprint of city dwellers, especially in dense cities such as
New York, is about 30% lower than in sprawling suburbs (Jones and
Kammen, 2013).
It needs stressing at this point that the above scenario applies, at
least in the initial stages, to the well-educated middle class mil-
lennials with professional and economic prospects, however
diminished these may be in relation to their parents. In the general
US population the professional/managerial class represents
approximately 20% of the total (Holt, 2014). While 20% may not
seem like a major force in a society-wide cultural shift, these are
exactly the middle class young people who would, a generation or
two ago, be right now embarking on the suburban life of
consumerism, commuting and accumulating, and would be
dening the aspirations of those who are less afuent.
In summary, from the perspective of wellbeing, millennials'
attraction to urban living and the contraction of their economic
opportunities converge in interesting ways. The economic con-
straints and small expensive living spaces constrain consumerism
and encourages human networks and interdependent collaborative
arrangements. Urban density facilitates collaborative organization
of everyday lives and creates shared public spaces. And the sheer
size of this demographic group as well as their technology-based
interconnectedness increases the probability that incremental in-
dividual changes in lifestyles, life priorities and social practices of
everyday life may evolve toward a shared collective consciousness.
This shared consciousness, evolving from lifestyle experiences,
might embrace a new framing of wellbeing that is different from
the conventional suburban middle class model that has shaped the
aspirations of the post-WWII generations. This scenario of a cul-
tural shift is consistent with Spaargaren's interpretation of the
work of Collins on the co-evolution of social rituals and practices,
and culture (Spaargaren, 2013; and sited therein Collins and
Makowsky 1989).
Since sharing and interdependence are the key elements of the
putative cultural transition envisioned here, the next section takes
a closer critical look efrom the perspective of improving a sense of
wellbeing eat the increasingly popular peer-to-peer economic
activities which fall under the broad umbrella of sharing
6. The new and sharing economy; and human wellbeing
The co-operative lifestyle arrangements that are sprouting here
and there among young urban families are part of a larger and
highly diverse phenomenon of sharing economy.The term de-
notes various forms of collective use among strangers of materials
goods, services, physical spaces, and nancial assets. This includes
shared ownership, access to privately owned goods, bartering,
swapping, lending, renting, and others. The concept has gained
prominence in recent years under a variety of additional names,
such as collaborative consumption, alternative consumption,
collaborative economy, and peer-to-peer (P2P) economy/
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Many claims have been made about the sharing economy as a
radical game changer in how people relate to each other and how
the economy operates (Botsman and Rogers, 2010; Belk, 2010;
Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera, 2012; Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2012;
Leismann et al., 2013). Time magazine called it in 2011 one of ten
ideas that will change the world (Walsh, 2011), attributing to it the
potential to reduce the ecological pressures of consumption,
generating new forms of business and livelihoods, altering the
functioning of the marketplace, and redening human interactions.
However, empirical evidence to support or counteract these claims
is very limited. Are we really witnessing signs of social change? Or
is it simply a market innovation and new business opportunity for
making prot from idle assets, enabled by the internet and the
social media technologies? (Cohen, 2014). The inux of venture
capital into the prot oriented varieties of the sharing economy
(Owyang et al., 2013) suggests the latter.
People participate in the sharing economy for a variety of rea-
sons. These range from ideological reasons (anti-capitalism, anti-
consumerism), thrift, gaining access to otherwise unaffordable as-
sets, prot seeking, concern for the ecological impact of con-
sumption, to have the freedom to relocate on a short notice without
a heavy ballast of material possessions; and to forge connections
with other people (Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera, 2012; Ozanne
and Ballantine, 2010; Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2012; Collective
Research Group, 2012). Belk (2010) claims that the psychological
payoff of participation in sharing is the sense of connection with
other people and the aggregate extended sense of self.He asso-
ciates participation in sharing practices with generosity and non-
materialism, the assertion consistent with the empirical ndings
from a small study of voluntary downshifters who participate in
freecycling (free swapping of goods) (Nelson, 2007). A recent study
of the sharing economy in Vancouver reports that for many par-
ticipants interaction with other people is the main attraction, but
the study was small and partly anecdotal (Collective Research
Group, 2012). Similarly, a limited survey of participants in co-
operatives in the UK revealed that 81% thought that sharing
made them happy and 75% that it is good for self-esteem (Grifths,
2013). Notably, the UK study also indicates that the demographic
group most willing to participate, were the 18e34 year olds.
Albinsson and Yasanthi Perera (2012) also found that the sense of
being a member of a community characterized by interdependence,
reciprocity and shared values, norms and meanings is a powerful
payoff from participating in the sharing economy.
The above claims notwithstanding, the data on which they are
based are very limited and the conclusions often overstated. In a
critical review of many forms of sharingenterprises Cohen (2014)
argues that only a small subset of those enamely where money is
not changing hands and ownership is shared ecount as truly collab-
orative, with a capacity to foster a sense of community and wellbeing.
A well-designed study of users of the pioneering car sharing service
ZipCar ewhere anonymity, central ownership of all the assets and
efcient central management are the organizing principles esupports
these ndings. Despite extensive efforts by the company to create
rituals among ZipCar users, they could nd no evidence of emerging
sense of community among users (Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2012). This is
also consistent with Seyfang's research ndings about various local
exchanges and trading schemes, including time banks, local cur-
rencies, and community-owned energy generation: only when scales
of exchange were small, there was evidence of more egalitarian re-
lationships, trust and community building (Seyfang, 2009). But even in
such small scale exchanges, recent research nds that class divisions
and non-egalitarian behaviors are often at work, mirroring the society
at large (Dubois at al. 2014; Schor, 2014).
In short, most forms of sharing economy appear to represent no
more than the evolution of the Internet as a platform for cost-
effective delivery of goods and services to disaggregated and
fragmented consumers(Cohen, 2014). It provides few incentives
to rein in our impulsive consumerist instincts or to strengthen the
sense of community and wellbeing.
Some authors place the sharing economy (or at least the more
collaborative forms of it) in a broader context, as part of the
growing movement around the concept of the new economy
(Schor, 2014; Jackson and Victor, 2013). The latter term denotes
various initiatives to create livelihoods outside the ethos of the
dominant corporate model (Korten, 2010). Also referred to as
solidarity economy(Miller, 2012), generative economy(Kelly,
2012), community-sustaining system(Alperowitz, 2013), and in
one instance green economy(Jackson and Victor, 2013), the new
economy is an umbrella concept for various business innovations as
well as a political movement (New Economy Coalition http:// It stands for more
equitable and democratic forms of business ownership and man-
agement styles (co-ops, community land trusts, and others),
workplace democracy, and less income inequality. It strongly sup-
ports localism ecommunity banks and businesses that are owned
and operated locally eand holds that economic development
should have human wellbeing as its ultimate goal, and not be
predicated on innite economic growth. As articulated in inspira-
tional writings of Jackson and Victor (2013), Alperowitz (2013),
Kelly (2012) and others, enterprises in such an economy create
meaningful employment and sustainable livelihoods, thrive on
social and market entrepreneurship and community vitality, and
support civic engagement and collaboration. All provide an alter-
native to the shrinking pool of living wage jobs offered by the
corporate sector.
The relevance of the new economy movement to the leading
thesis of this essay ea transition beyond consumerism by millen-
nials through a re-framed meaning of wellbeing eis similar to that
of the sharing economy: to the extent that these new economic
forms strengthen human bonds, provide opportunities for collec-
tive work toward creating livelihoods and community and indi-
vidual wellbeing, they are relevant for the study of transition
beyond consumerism. We bring them into this discussion as
pertinent for further interdisciplinary research that is needed to
understand how such social change might take place.
7. Discussion
Since its rapid evolution after the WWII, the consumer society in
the US, and the lifestyles it has engendered, has ceased to deliver on
the great promise of wellbeing for all, while exacting a heavy
ecological toll. It runs on its own momentum, propelled by cultural
meanings and symbols, social practices, institutional inertia,
existing infrastructure, and by business and economic and political
interests. Since technology alone cannot counteract the ecological
cost of unrestrained growth and consumerism, much less address
the shrinking gains in wellbeing, a transition beyond this dominant
economic model is needed. But it is unrealistic to expect the policy
and political leaders to lead that social change. Similarly, there are
few signs so far that the established NGOs are about to include
consumption and consumerism in their agendas. The change will
need to come from the citizens and, we contend, have at its core an
evolution toward a new framing of wellbeing.
While it is generally accepted that cultural change occurs very
slowly, under some conditions it may actually be very rapid. This
was the case with consumer society, which emerged in the US (and
other economies) through concerted efforts of government, unions,
and the corporate sector when the historical window of opportu-
nity opened up. In the span of a one or two generations the middle
class radically changed its normallifestyles, consumption
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behaviors, and its understanding of what good life consists of. Can
such a rapid change take place again, this time following a trajec-
tory beyond consumerism? The difculty with theorizing on this
question, based on the past events, is that the story of the emer-
gence of consumer society is commonly told as a historical narra-
tive, not through a theoretical lens. Furthermore, as discussed
earlier in this paper, the theoretical framework for understanding
cultural change of that nature and magnitude is underdeveloped.
In this paper we propose that the cultural change entailing a
new framing of wellbeing, if it happens, is unlikely to be driven by
moral imperatives or persuasive campaigns, or follow the leader-
ship of organized NGOs, or entail political mobilization. Rather, the
fundamental human strife for wellbeing and subjective happiness
in everyday life is a more likely driving force. We hypothesize that
the incremental collective shifts in lifestyle choices and adaptations
to the current economic realities can produce new social practices,
interactions and meanings, which in turn lead to reframing the
understanding of wellbeing. Extensive research on what makes
people happy and satised with their lives suggests that such
reframing can readily incorporate a shift away from consumerist
lifestyles. In that reframing, materially scaled-down life would be
richer in other ways: more reciprocal and connected to others, and
with a stronger sense of a community. We also hypothesize,
drawing on the demographic and economic statistics that techno-
logically connected, educated, condent and open to change mil-
lennials might lead the way in the shift toward a less-consumerist
society. Their diminishing interest in suburban life in favor of cities,
constricted economic opportunities, and the size and intercon-
nectedness all point in that direction.
It is not known at this point whether the various forms of
sharing economy, and the growing interest in the precepts of the
new economy, may contribute to this reframing process. To the
extent that some forms (albeit in minority) of the sharing economy
foster social trust and community building, and that the new
economy movement challenges income inequalities and many
established institutions, there may be opportunities for mutual
reinforcement. In this paper we note these trends and we sum-
marize the small body of relevant empirical research as a way to
highlight the opportunities for further research on a possible
transition beyond the consumer society.
While this paper focusses on individual lifestyle choices and
adaptations as engines of putative collective evolution beyond
consumer society, the transition we contemplate here cannot be
successful without active policy support. Such issues as affordable
housing for the middle class families in the cities, family-friendly
policies, and access to quality public education, mass transit,
open space and other essential-to-wellbeing amenities must be
tackled by local and state governments. There are signs that some
municipalities are embarking on that pathway and are framing
their development policies using the concept of wellbeing (Eugene
Memo, 2014). National policies, such as carbon tax, if designed to
avoid adding new hardships on low income households, can serve
as an economic incentive for less consumerism. But we also
recognize that in the current national political climate in the US the
latter types of interventions are unlikely.
8. The challenge
The question of how to transition to an economy that is in
harmony with ecological limits is one the greatest questions of our
times. It is widely recognized that unlimited economic growth
based on mass material consumption is unsustainable and a recipe
for disaster. Some of the best minds are producing agendas for
policy initiatives, social movements, new forms of governance, and
new institutions, from local to global. The calls for value changes
are as ubiquitous as they are vague. Much less attention has been
devoted to developing plausible, theoretically and empirically
grounded scenarios for how a change toward a different type of
economy and culture might occur, and where the likely leverage
points are. Our goal is to foster serious work on such pathways to
change, both in the form of a debate and research.
The hypotheses, the future scenario, and the pathways we are
proposing in this paper are all open to challenge. Other authors
believe that a smooth cultural transition described here toward less
consumerism either requires much more central interventions (tax
policies, education reform, organized social movements, or care-
fully designed cultural re-engineering)(The Worldwatch
Institute, 2010, 2013); or is outright impossible, owing to the
great stability of the consumer society and imminent ecological
disruptions. Assadourian (2014), for example, proposes that a major
ecological and economic crisis, with its attendant widespread
suffering and dislocations, will precede signicant changes in life-
styles and values. The Great Transition scenario by Tellus Institute
envisions a global citizens' movement, driven by a new dominant
set of values, as a necessary condition for change (Raskin et al.,
2002, Raskin, 2011). These eand other escenarios are not mutu-
ally exclusive. The goal of the here proposed scenario is to consider
the potential and possible pathways to a non-revolutionary cultural
change. And if a crisis ensues in the future, its psychological impacts
might be at least somewhat cushioned when people's conception of
well-being is less deeply tied up with material consumption.
We hope that this paper will stimulate debate, action and
research focusing on the how'sof transitioning beyond consumer
society. These will be a welcome addition to the existing volumi-
nous literature centered on the why'sand should'sof such a
The authors wish to thank Lewis Akenji and Sylvia Lorek for
their comments on an earlier version of this paper; and three
anonymous reviewers for their challenging and encouraging
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... Studies evidenced that records of happiness peaked, revealing a wave of consumption mania (Schor, 2004). Western society experienced a genuine shift of values regarding the spending of time and money, as a growing supply of lower-priced material objects turned its citizens into eager consumers (Schor, 2004;Brown & Vergragt, 2016). Consequently, not only products, but also consumption became an important way of defining the self and appraising who one was (Cohen, 2003 The expression 'keep up with the Joneses', coined in the second decade of the twentieth century, aptly describes how neighbours' standard of living became the new role model realised in daily, face-to-face interactions. ...
... For example, studies have shown that the less exposure to media and consumption acts children have, the healthier sense of self they display (Schor, 2004;Press TV 2013). Similarly, studies on adults have demonstrated that the more they value materialistic aspirations and goals, the lower happiness and life satisfaction levels they have, and the more likely they are to experience depression, anxiety and substance abuse (Belk, 1984, Brown & Vergragt, 2016. As it appears, material acquisitions are considered to be necessary for individual well-being, the self is defined by consumption and mass individualism has come to define Western society. ...
... Focusing on refugees, and lately climate change, the agency praises empathy and work-life balance, reappraise consumerism and 'imagin[e] a world where people value their friendships more than the things they own' (Gwynn, 2016). 'Glimpse', the collective of creative people have communicated their philosophy for a new culture denouncing the harm attached to consumption society along greed, echoing a growing idea that a materialistic life does not bring happiness (Brown and Vergragt, 2016); and how change has to come in order to launch a better world (Glimpse, 2021) whether for the tackling of the refugees' problem or of global warming. That collective using the marketing techniques has started to imagine a different world "A world with compassion it its heart. ...
The rise of violence and civil wars across the Middle East and North Africa region along with other African countries has driven migrant flows into Europe. Yet, once settled in Western nations, immigrants face an invisible level of hindrance in the new host society and its consumption culture. This paper explores the perspectives of philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s typology of violence with anthropological thinker René Girard’s (1977) mimetic theory to frame violence endemics to the culture of consumption society. The study also questions how such inevitable violence could be limited. While the typology of violence and mimetic theory can help to elucidate the violence inherent in the current neo-capitalist system along the invisible turmoil caused by the ontological sickness of modernity imminent to consumption society regarding immigrants, social marketing is suggested as an approach that may be used – not to respond to consumer behaviour – but to influence such behaviour. OPEN access:
... For the ancient Greeks, luxury had to be limited to the man-built public place (e.g., Wilkins 2008). In doing so, the built place provided peacefulness and societal harmony, whereby it served the common good and promoted societal well-being (Brown and Vergragt 2016). The COVID-19 pandemic brought limitations and controls to day-to-day life. ...
... Possibly as a reaction to the ravages of the neoliberal system, its mass production, and the damages of exploitation and degradation of the resources of the global commons, more and more people have rejected the hedonic treadmill (Brown and Vergragt 2016). As a reaction, people have begun to gain appreciation for the necessities of human and environmental wellbeing, even to the extent of treating natural and global common resources as luxuries (Cristini and Kauppinen-Räisänen 2020). ...
... Such a transformative luxury would beget a "change in priorities towards quality of life, living within ecological parameters and in a context of social relationships, which are guiding us as towards notions of global citizenship and away from the materialism, selfishness and individualism promoted by the culture of consumption" (Higgins-Desbiolles 2010). It could advocate alternative value systems promoting Aristotelian well-being interested in "autonomy, search for meaning, spirituality, commitment and ethical behavior, respect and sense of achievement in life," as opposed to a Benthamite (utilitarian) one, which implies a micro individualistic focus on luxury for one's exclusive well-being (Brown and Vergragt 2016). Luxury appears in the public and private realms, and people can indulge in a personal luxurious moment while not infringing on the common good or being conscious of others. ...
Luxury has always been an intrinsic part of human societies. Prior research shows how luxury transforms from being-to-having and owning-to-searching for meaningfulness via shifting from having-to-being and from owning-to-experiencing. The study here is a critical commentary of foundational literature that includes examining the ongoing luxury transformation in the ongoing COVID-19 era in a world of climate change and disaster displacements, environmental degradation, and awareness of future pandemics. Building on prior advances in luxury transformations and the macromarketing literature on well-being, this commentary takes a fresh look at the prevailing role of luxury and its accompanying well-being in Western European societies amid the progressing tripartite storm. This critical commentary serves to clarify and broaden luxury's meaning and roles in making the shift from a micro individualistic focus to a macromarketing sustainable foundation. Entering the fourth year of COVID-19, the commentary implies that luxury goes beyond experiencing to catalyze cherishing self-care, nurturing, and the well-being of others.
... Since we simultaneously estimate the effects of inequality and its reduction, our results indicate that not only the perceived income inequality what influences subjective well-being, but also the process (the extent of redistribution) what has led to that outcome". As noted, "from the subjective well-being perspective alone, economic growth with increasing inequality would not deserve to be classified as pure progress" [134]. Well-being, inequality and redistribution, and local contexts are all correlated; thus, "The empirical literature about inequality and subjective well-being shows that the impact of income inequality depends on the vision that citizens have of their society, their preferences concerning this society and their beliefs about the way it functions and the groups that compose it" [134]. ...
... As noted, "from the subjective well-being perspective alone, economic growth with increasing inequality would not deserve to be classified as pure progress" [134]. Well-being, inequality and redistribution, and local contexts are all correlated; thus, "The empirical literature about inequality and subjective well-being shows that the impact of income inequality depends on the vision that citizens have of their society, their preferences concerning this society and their beliefs about the way it functions and the groups that compose it" [134]. Therefore, the connection of wellbeing with the locality and local community become relevant. ...
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The importance and role of tourism around the world is not new; it is enough to mention that tourism represents one of the fastest-growing and most profitable global economic sectors. However, tourism has negative impacts in destinations, such as the displacement and relocation of communities and disruption of economic systems, socio-political processes and organizations. It must be recognized that new strategies are required, because growth itself is not sufficient to fight poverty and inequality. Local people, especially the disadvantaged sections of the communities, need to be protagonists and able to control the tourism sector and benefit from it. The aim of this paper is to contribute to wellbeing, sustainability, and tourism research by proposing issues and ways forward related to enhancing well-being through community-based tourism (CBT). The paper is divided into three sections. The first focuses on CBT approaches. The second concerns the conceptual framework of wellbeing, with special emphasis on wellbeing in tourism, including host/guest relations; we present different evaluations of wellbeing, e.g., (socio-cultural, psychological, economic, and environmental). The third section discusses how wellbeing is presented in CBT and proposes ways forward for research. The paper is theoretical, and is based on previous literature and institutional and organizational documents.
... With the rising awareness of numerous social and environmental implications of hyper-consumption, emerging microtrends can be observed in the fringes of societies, taking various forms of consumer resistance (Roux & Izberk-Bilgin, 2018) and anti-consumerism movements (Cambefort & Pecot, 2020). Furthermore, many scholars question whether, when, and how a cultural shift toward a less consumerist lifestyle might happen (Abela, 2006;Ianole-Călin et al., 2020;Szejnwald-Brown & Vergragt, 2016). This critical discourse highlighting the damaging social and environmental consequences of highly increasing consumption has emerged in marketing theory (Chandy et al., 2018) and is empirically set in consumer culture (Nixon & Gabriel, 2016;Welch et al., 2019). ...
Despite the increasing social perspective in branding research, accompanied by more firms creating brands including environmental issues, no studies so far have investigated whether brand narratives referring to polarizing consumer cultures affect brand-related metrics. We explore the impact of shopping rituals rooted in either materialistic or material-resistant consumer culture on consumer-based brand equity. Our research shows that consumers do not assess brand equity based on the narratives associated to any of the cultures, which suggests that in the case of such contextual sensitive research, a more reflexive approach is needed to explore brands’ appeal gained from cultural meanings.
... Yet, both efficiency and consistency strategies ignore rebound, induction, and growth effects and, hence, may fail to deliver significant savings, as any relative reduction of inputs can be outplayed by an absolute increase of output [53,54]. Therefore, without neglecting the valuable contributions of efficiency and consistency strategies, several authors suggest that those strategies should be accompanied-if not guided-by a sufficiency strategy that ensures absolute reductions in resource and emissions intensities [55][56][57]. Furthermore, several authors overcome the ill fortune that sufficiency is sometimes mistakenly associated with attitudes such as abstinence or renouncement by suggesting that the sufficiency strategy can benefit both the environment and the quality of life [32,33,58,59]. ...
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ICT hold significant potential to increase resource and energy efficiencies and contribute to a circular economy. Yet unresolved is whether the aggregated net effect of ICT overall mitigates or aggravates environmental burdens. While the savings potentials have been explored, drivers that prevent these and possible counter measures have not been researched thoroughly. The concept digital sufficiency constitutes a basis to understand how ICT can become part of the essential environmental transformation. Digital sufficiency consists of four dimensions, each suggesting a set of strategies and policy proposals: (a) hardware sufficiency, which aims for fewer devices needing to be produced and their absolute energy demand being kept to the lowest level possible to perform the desired tasks; (b) software sufficiency, which covers ensuring that data traffic and hardware utilization during application are kept as low as possible; (c) user sufficiency, which strives for users applying digital devices frugally and using ICT in a way that promotes sustainable lifestyles; and (d) economic sufficiency, which aspires to digitalization supporting a transition to an economy characterized not by economic growth as the primary goal but by sufficient production and consumption within planetary boundaries. The policies for hardware and software sufficiency are relatively easily conceivable and executable. Policies for user and economic sufficiency are politically more difficult to implement and relate strongly to policies for environmental transformation in general. This article argues for comprehensive policies for digital sufficiency, which are indispensible if ICT are to play a beneficial role in overall environmental transformation.
... Lower use of energy and materials though should not be confused with lower welfare levels, nor with restriction or deprivation, (Jackson, 2017). Research shows that the growth in use of energy and materials has in many countries reached levels where this use becomes dysfunctional and harmful to general and individual welfare (Douglas, 2011;Brown, 2016;Burke, 2020) due to its impacts on e.g. "physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardio-respiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change". ...
Conference Paper
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The unprecedented challenge of reaching carbon neutrality before mid-century and a large share of it within 2030 in order to keep under the 1.5 or 2 °C carbon budgets, requires broad and deep changes in production and consumption patterns which, together with a shift to renewables and reinforced efficiency, need to be addressed through energy suf-ficiency. However, inadequate representations and obstacles to characterising and identifying sufficiency potentials often lead to an underrepresentation of sufficiency in models, scenarios and policies. One way to tackle this issue is to work on the development of sufficiency assumptions at a concrete level where various implications such as social consequences, environmental co-benefits, conditions for implementation can be discussed. This approach has been developed as the backbone of a collaborative project, gathering partners in 20 European countries at present, aiming for the integration of harmonised national scenarios into an ambitious net-zero European vision. The approach combines a qualitative discussion on the role of energy sufficiency in a "systemic" merit order for global sustainability , and a quantitative discussion of the level of suffi-ciency to be set to contribute to meeting 100 % renewables supply and net-zero emissions goals by 2050 at the latest. The latter is based on the use of a dashboard, which serves as a common descriptive framework for all national scenario trajectories and their comparison, with a view to harmonising and strengthening them through an iterative process. A set of key sufficiency-related indicators have been selected to be included in the dashboard, while various interrelated infrastructural, economic, environmental, social or legal factors or drivers have been identified and mapped. This paves the way for strengthening assumptions through the elaboration of "sufficiency corridors" defining a convergent, acceptable and sustainable level of energy services in Europe. The process will eventually inform the potential for sufficiency policies through a better identification of leverages, impacts and co-benefits.
... The P2P solution allows people to access shared underutilized and expensive assets with low costs and a wide variety of cheap alternatives (Lamberton & Rose, 2012). Brown and Vergragt (2016) state that reduced purchasing power may be compensated by lifestyles that meet the basic subsistence needs, implying increased selfreliance, greater mutual reciprocity, interdependency within a community, and profoundly satisfying lifestyle choices. ...
The study examines potential P2P ride-sharing users' intentions to adopt the service by integrating trust constructs towards the digital platform, attitude towards sharing economy, and functional and emotional benefits as psychological antecedents. An empirical investigation was carried out on a sample of non-users, adopting the PLS-SEM approach to test the hypotheses underlying an especially conceived conceptual model. Sub-samples of non-users (owner and non-owner of a private car; young adults and adults) were also submitted to the hypotheses testing. The results suggest that, for non-users, the dimension of trust towards the digital platform takes a key role in fostering the intention to adopt the service. In contrast, attitude towards sharing economy impacts the perception of the service's functional benefits (i.e., economic and environmental). The study contributes to a deeper understanding of a neglected target that deserves special attention to expand the demand for shared mobility and push sustainable consumption.
Purpose The objective of this paper is to identify dimensions of responsible consumption from consumer perspective and develop a reliable and valid measurement scale. Design/methodology/approach This paper has employed mixed methodology to develop items for responsible consumption. In first phase, experts' interviews were carried out to unearth the dimensions of responsible consumption. In second phase, quantitative survey was carried out to among consumers to measure their response. This was done using five-point Likert scale. The reliability and validity were ensured through empirical data online. Structural equation modeling was used to test the structural model. Findings The result showed that consumer perception of responsible consumption consists of five dimensions (Rationality, Sustainable Consumption, Local Consumption, Ethical Consumption and Minimalism). The result also showed strong relationship among satisfaction and responsible consumption dimensions. Practical implications It will help policymakers to measure and promote responsible consumption thereby improving environmental performance and reducing carbon footprint. Originality/value This is the first study to develop valid and reliable instrument for responsible consumption. The findings will have several implications both theoretical and practical for policymakers and society.
Meeting human needs while respecting ecological limits is one of the daunting tasks of the sustainability transformation. To succeed in it, it is vital to discuss, to reconstruct, and to deconstruct the dominant discourse on well-being. How young people understand well-being is a particularly important issue since they are the prospective harbingers of change. However, the public discourse on youth is often problem-oriented, especially regarding youth not in employment or education. In this article, the gaze is directed at one such group. Group-interview data of young unemployed Finnish adults are analyzed to explore how they conceptualize well-being and how this understanding relates to the sustainability transformation. We interpret the data with the help of a need-based theory of sustainable, multidimensional, and relational well-being (the Having-Doing-Loving-Being framework). The study demonstrates that the young adults’ discourse is compatible with the framework, and differs distinctly from the prevailing policy discourse on well-being by giving far less weight to monetary aspects, and by its emphasis on meaningfulness, ethical activities, and connectedness with nature. The article concludes with implications for the sustainability transformation regarding consumption, employment policies, social and health services, biodiversity and conservation, positive sustainability, and the theory of sustainable well-being
Energy and climate change mitigation analysis rooted in economic relationships alone is largely disconnected from the advancement of well-being. We propose an interdisciplinary research agenda that relates energy use to individual well-being through consumption by building bridges between the social sciences, energy–economic models and climate policy analysis. Through these linkages, we may better characterize the potential for less harmful and more meaningful consumption that improves human well-being while reducing carbon emissions.
Sustainable consumption is increasingly on the policy menu, and local organic food provision has been widely advocated as a practical means of making the desired changes to conventional production and consumption systems. This paper presents the first empirical evaluation of a local organic food network as a tool for sustainable consumption. It thereby makes a timely and original contribution to the debate on environmental governance by discussing the role and potential of local organic food networks to develop new institutions which enable individuals and groups to change their consumption patterns. A new multi-criteria qualitative evaluation tool is developed, from the New Economics theory, to assess the effectiveness of initiatives at achieving sustainable consumption. The key indicators of sustainable consumption are: localisation, reducing ecological footprints, community-building, collective action, and creating new socio-economic institutions. This evaluation framework is applied to a case study organic producer cooperative in Norfolk, UK, which is found to be effective at achieving sustainable consumption, but which nevertheless faces a number of barriers. Finally, the possible ways forward for community-based sustainable consumption are discussed, together with appropriate policy recommendations.
If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that Americans save too little, spend too much, and borrow excessively. What can we learn from East Asian and European countries that have fostered enduring cultures of thrift over the past two centuries? Beyond Our Means tells for the first time how other nations aggressively encouraged their citizens to save by means of special savings institutions and savings campaigns. The U.S. government, meanwhile, promoted mass consumption and reliance on credit, culminating in the global financial meltdown. Many economists believe people save according to universally rational calculations, saving the most in their middle years as they plan for retirement, and saving the least in welfare states. In reality, Europeans save at high rates despite generous welfare programs and aging populations. Americans save little, despite weaker social safety nets and a younger population. Tracing the development of such behaviors across three continents from the nineteenth century to today, this book highlights the role of institutions and moral suasion in shaping habits of saving and spending. It shows how the encouragement of thrift was not a relic of indigenous traditions but a modern movement to confront rising consumption. Around the world, messages to save and spend wisely confronted citizens everywhere--in schools, magazines, and novels. At the same time, in America, businesses and government normalized practices of living beyond one's means. Transnational history at its most compelling, Beyond Our Means reveals why some nations save so much and others so little.
How serious are the threats to our environment? Here is one measure of the problem: if we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels-they are accelerating, dramatically-and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification. In this book Gus Speth, author of Red Sky at Morning and a widely respected environmentalist, begins with the observation that the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to decline, to the point that we are now at the edge of catastrophe. Speth contends that this situation is a severe indictment of the economic and political system we call modern capitalism. Our vital task is now to change the operating instructions for today's destructive world economy before it is too late. The book is about how to do that.
If the title of this book makes you a little suspicious of what I'm up to, then all is well. We'll get along just fine. That's because the dirty secrets ahead aren't the kind you can be told (you probably wouldn't believe me anyway), but rather are the kind you must be shown. But even then, I don't expect you to accept all of my particular renderings.