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Uncovering Economies of Sustainability: Looking at Alternatives to the Status Quo
A practice-based approach to alternative economic models to help students discover and decipher what characterizes an economy, by contrasting alternative and ordinary economies.


By: Helen Holmes (University of Manchester)

Session type: Multiple sessions, Undergraduate level, Medium size


  • Alternative economies

  • Social practice theory


Introduction to the teaching example:

The intention is to inspire students to think critically about economies at the micro level using the examples of sharing and circulation and how these activities may be taking place in their own neighborhoods. This includes identifying distinctions between more cooperative consumption initiatives against profit-driven supply methods.  


Students analyze various economic systems, such as sharing economies, circular economies, cultural economies, collaborative consumption, and illicit economies. Then, they are challenged to critically reflect on their own behaviors and experiences in their communities in order to identify how inequality might be replicated in many contexts (for instance, food banks can't always accommodate varied cultural and religious preferences). They seek to provide answers to issues like "Should there be more food banks or greater state provisions?" 


Students are given situations that enable them to reflect on their own behaviors, such as: What do you do with leftovers after cooking? What kind of garment-purchasing options, such as nonprofit organizations, clothing exchanges, and internet retailers, would you consider? Are there any cultural venues—like museums or galleries—that you find unsettling to visit? Why?


In addition, they are shown several case studies of sharing and circulation in action (e.g., food banks, repair cafés), and they are asked to consider others in Manchester or their home cities. They might not have even recognized these activities as alternative economies, such as a potluck or shared dinners, buying used furniture, or receiving hand-me-downs. 


The next step is for the students to identify and create their personal case study with a company from the alternative economy. For instance, students have opted to concentrate on a different type of supply project in their neighborhood (e.g. a food bank or clothes swap, or a national or even international organization, such as Fair Trade or Incredible Edible). Together, these different elements of the activity support critical reflection on participation in alternative economies and how they can promote sustainable consumption.

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