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Scaling sufficiency

Towards less material consumption

Time: Fri 2022-10-14 09.15

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Planning and Decision Analysis, Urban and Regional Studies

Doctoral student: Ola Persson , Urbana och regionala studier

Opponent: Reader Kersty Hobson, University of Cardiff

Supervisor: Docent Karin Bradley, Urbana och regionala studier; Professor Mikael Klintman, Department of Sociology, Lund University

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QC 20220907


Various researchers have pointed out that avoiding further catastrophicconsequences related to the deteriorating ecological state of the planet,brought about by unsustainable production and consumption patterns,requires not only technological innovation and efficiency in productionprocesses, but also absolute reductions in energy and material use (i.e.,sufficiency). The rapid expansion of research on ideas such as sufficiency andpost-growth indicate an increasing realization that fundamental societalchange is needed if we are to avoid devastating environmental effects andsocial inequities.Using a theoretical perspective consisting of the literature on sustainableconsumption, sufficiency politics and policies, and scaling sustainabilityinitiatives, this thesis aims to contribute to our knowledge about socialecologicaltransformations from the perspective of sufficiency, specificallyaddressing (un)sustainable consumption. Sweden serves as the case with, onthe one hand, its strong civil society, policy and business promotion ofsustainable development and, on the other, high per-capita levels ofunsustainable consumption of resources.This thesis comprises four separate articles and a cover essay. Article oneexplores how environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) areframing different sufficiency activities—ranging from those that can beapplied within the current market arrangements to others that deal withsocial relations and non-commercial values beyond market exchange—as away to attract a wider audience. Article two analyses the individual motivesfor working less and the socio-ecological outcomes of Gothenburg City’s ‘rightto part-time’ policy. The third article contrasts the visions and discourses of‘community repair’ with the mainstream circular economy discourse byanalyzing the ENGO campaign ‘Fix the Stuff’ and the open Do-It-Yourselfrepair spaces ‘Fixotek’ in the City of Gothenburg. Article four explores howdifferent business forms impact upon the social and ecological sustainabilitydynamics of the changing Swedish second-hand clothing market.Sufficiency is an approach that remains peripheral in the public debates onhow to enable social and ecological sustainability. Nevertheless, the researchin this thesis provides concrete examples of how sufficiency practices can bescaled, not only through bottom-up and grassroots movements, but also viaiimore conventional actors, such as municipalities, established ENGOs andfirms (Papers I–IV). It therefore contributes to knowledge about howsufficiency can extend beyond an individual strategy towards low-impactlifestyles, and thus can involve various societal actors and amplificationprocesses, ranging across scaling out, scaling deep and scaling up. In addition,I illustrate how the scaling of sufficiency practices is also coupled withvarious challenges and tensions, which risk undermining some of the keyaspects of the sufficiency approach.Furthermore, through the lens of the sufficiency approach, this thesis alsoadvances the debate on sustainability transitions and circular economies(Papers III and IV). In particular, it draws attention to how the mainstreamcircular economy discourse has overlooked questions relating to the rolesand powers of citizen-consumers and corporations, as well as the control ofmaterials, skills and resources. Moreover, there are social-ecological issuesrelated to which market actors have access to used clothing, how thesematerials flow and how profits are eventually distributed that have yet toreceive much attention in the current circular economy debate. Together,these issues have important implications for who benefits from the transitionto a circular economy and in what ways.