The dual role of social relations for sustainable lifestyle change

Picture of people with bikes at Campus

Consumerism is widely understood as unsustainable, but difficult to change due to its importance for our economy, culture and social relations. In a recent article, Magnus Boström has examined the role of social relations in both reproducing and challenging consumer culture.

The article focuses on the intersection between social relations and (over)consumption. Our basic need for social belonging is one of the drivers behind consumption. For example, shopping can partly be described as a social practice, or even a ritual, central to the way people are socializing. However, as our everyday practices dramatically changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, other ways of socializing emerged. Thus, the article lifts the possibility for Covid-19 to act as a “window of opportunity” for lifestyle changes in a more sustainable direction.

The article draws on literature on the topic of both voluntary and involuntary reduced consumption. It is recognised that social relations also play an important role in enabling people to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. This was evident in the literature on voluntary reduced consumption, as the most described enabler for their lifestyle change was support from friends or family with likeminded ideas.

Literature on how social practices changed during the pandemic (involuntary changes) shows that family activities such as eating dinner together, playing boardgames or visiting local tourist sites became more prominent during this time. Although online shopping to some extent replaced the practice of visiting stores and shopping centres, it may become less of a socially entertaining practice, opening for the opportunity to reduce the importance of consumerist culture to our social life.

Insights from both voluntary and involuntary reduced consumption shows that people are adaptive and creative in finding new ways of spending time together. The article ends by emphasizing the important task for sociology to examine how less consumerist oriented and more meaningful human relations can be established, to facilitate a transition to more sustainable lifestyles.

Boström, M. (2021) Social Relations and Everyday Consumption Rituals: Barriers or Prerequisites for Sustainability Transformation? Frontiers in Sociology.

Read more about the article here