Ecological modernization theory and domestic consumption

  • Spaargaren G
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In the first part of the paper, the theory of ecological modernization is discussed with respect to some of its central assumptions, taking into account a number of the criticisms that have been raised against the theory. It is argued that the focus of the theory on substance and energy flows within social systems does not necessarily imply a resort to some sort of 'nave realism' which denies the inherently social and contested nature of environmental problems. It is, however, important for environmental sociologists to take on board indicators and criteria that refer to the material dimension of social systems in order to be able to contribute to the debate on sustainable production and consumption. Furthermore, it is argued that environmental technologies are of crucial importance for bringing about more sustainable ways of industrial production and consumption. It is described how the real or supposed dangers of a central focus on technology would result in a technological-fix scheme of environmental social change, or a shallow form of green capitalism. We conclude the section on the general characteristics of the theory with a plea for elaborating ecological modernization theory at the middle-range level, taking into account the different social and environmental characteristics of the various 'target groups' that figure as the central objects of environmental policy-making. The second part of the paper takes the target group of domestic consumers as a point of departure for elaborating ecological modernization theory. Structuration theory is applied to design a model which can be used as an analytical tool in investigating the ecological modernization of domestic consumption. The EU-funded international DOMUS project is used to illustrate the need for consumer involvement in the ecological modernization of domestic routines and life-styles. The paper concludes with a short discussion of the political questions that go along with eco-modernization of domestic consumption under conditions of reflexive modernity.

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  • Gert Spaargaren

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