Practice Makes Perfect! Exploring how Practices Cause Consumption Problems, and are also Part of the Solution
This activity supports students to work with social practice theory to uncover what contributes to un-sustainable forms of consumption, and then propose initiatives that can support change to more sustainable consumption.
By: Marlyne Sahakian and Mallory Xinyu Zhan (both: University of Geneva)
Session type: Single session, Undergraduate/Graduate level, Small/Medium/Large size
Social practice theory
Introduction to the teaching example:
The exercise is intended for students to learn the link between the issue of (un)sustainable consumption and socio-material systems. Consequently, the goal is to find a solution that takes this complexity into consideration. It takes place in a 2h workshop, with some preparatory work.
Students prepare in advance a list of sentences that illustrate serious concerns in regard to consumerism and sustainability before class. Food waste, fast fashion, and other consumption domains can be suggested to help students focus their observations. These observations are collected by the instructor beforehand, who then presents four to five major issues in the workshop, in the form of problem statements. Students form groups and choose one issue that they wish to work on together.
Although the workshop starts and finishes with a plenary discussion, the majority of the time is spent in groups. Students are divided into groups to map the enabling network of their chosen problem statement. This enabling network takes into account different elements of practices, such as understandings and social standards, rules and regulations, skills and competencies, interactions with different actors and more generally social relations, and material arrangements, including physical and virtual settings, such as how space is organized, and what products are visible or not (building on Vihalemm, Keller & Kiisel, 2015). Understanding how these elements inter-relate is part of the mapping exercise which takes about 30 minutes, minimum.
After participants have completed the mapping exercise, they proceed to the second phase, where they begin to consider proposals or initiatives that could lead to changes to their systems map, towards enabling more sustainable consumption (for example, reducing the use of non-renewable resources and environmental impacts, across supply chains, or allowing for a more inclusive and just system). They are specifically instructed not to submit suggestions that are restricted to awareness campaigns or the adoption of new technology alone; while these can be components of a solution, the suggestions must take into account the diverse set of elements they have outlined. In general, we encourage students to focus on 2-3 elements, and propose initiatives that address those elements specifically.
Once the students have developed their ideas, they present the proposed initiative or solution in plenary (see example 18 for an introduction to a similar exercise, based on the change points toolkit