Making sense of sufficiency

Entries, practices and politics

Time: Fri 2020-01-31 10.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Planning and Decision Analysis Urban and Regional Studies

Doctoral student: Åsa Callmer , Urbana och regionala studier

Opponent: Assistant professor Marlyne Sahakian, University of Geneva

Supervisor: Associate professor Karin Bradley, Urbana och regionala studier; Professor Jonathan Metzger, Urbana och regionala studier

Abstract

The affluent groups and societies in the world have made material consumption part of their lifestyle. Today, overconsumption has come to constitute an acute environmental problem, both with regards to the natural resources needed to satisfy our ever-growing wants, and to the mountains of waste it leaves behind.

Starting from a global justice perspective and from an understanding of sustainability as keeping within the planetary boundaries, this thesis argues that it is urgent that affluent individuals, groups and societies develop a sense of sufficiency, of “good and enough”. Focusing on sufficiency in the area of material consumption, this thesis explores paths that could be taken to strengthen sufficiency as an idea and value within a consumerist society and culture, and aims to answer the overarching question of how an affluent society might orient itself towards sufficiency. Against the background framework of political ecology, relational geography and sustainable consumption literature, sufficiency is framed as a question of responsibility – the responsibility of the affluent individuals, groups and societies in the world to refrain from taking more than their fair share, or, in other words, to withdraw from their excess environmental space.

Two cases of sufficiency-related practice in Sweden are studied: one of individuals who actively and voluntarily reduce their consumption to only the basics over the period of one year, and one of individuals using the ‘’KonMari Method’’ to declutter their homes. The thesis shows that the difference between these practices in regard to consumption is a question of intentionality: The buy-nothing practitioners intentionally want to stop consuming, whereas the majority of the KonMariers – as a result of their practice – eventually cease to want to consume, despite the absence of this as an original driver. These results point to the importance of looking at different kinds of entry into more sufficient consumption practices, and at the motivations behind them when it comes to policies aimed at reducing material consumption. The findings further serve to create an understanding for how a sense of sufficiency might develop in an affluent context.

Based on literature discussing a framework for a politics of sufficiency and on interviews with public officials and civil society representatives working with sustainable consumption at different levels in Sweden, this thesis further explores the obstacles to and potential for orienting an affluent society towards sufficiency. Certain potential for a more sufficiency-oriented future is identified, not least in terms of a cultural shift and elements of “sufficiency thinking” among the informants. However, the thesis stresses the importance of rethinking our understanding of limits, being outspoken about what the existence of planetary boundaries implies in terms of limiting resource use and defining clear goals that respect those boundaries and emphasize societal values at the basis of ‘the good life’, such as well-being, health and ecological sustainability.

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