Sociology of consumption

Sustainability and social justice (session 3 of 3)

June 30, 2021 15:00
June 30, 2021 16:30

Katia Vladimirova, Institute of Sociological Research, UNIGE; Johanna Huber, PhD Candidate, Institute of Citizenship, UNIGE; Marlyne Sahakian, Institute of Sociological Research, UNIGE


Auxane Pidoux, Département de sociologie, Université de Genève

Burcu Eke Schneider, Peace Worker, Wuppertal

Katia Vladimirova, IRS University of Geneva

The normative notion of ‘sustainability’ has social justice implications at its core. Environmental sustainability is often treated as a distributional issue, regarding how to better allocate the access to natural resources and how to assign responsibility for environmental impacts, and touches upon questions of procedural justice. Such perspectives shed light on who is involved in decisions regarding sustainability practices, processes and policies as well as who is excluded or included, and in what way. The questions of ‘by whom’ and ‘for whom’ sustainability applies also relate to how ‘sustainability’ is often considered to be an anthropogenic topic; more attention is needed on how humans and nonhumans are equally important actors in socio-ecological systems. Further, some of the solutions proposed for ‘sustainable’ change tend to involve the white upper-middle-class, and may lead to forms of elite environmentalism that render invisible or less significant the lower impact lifestyles of the world’s under-priviledged groups. Furthermore, movements proposing sustainable solutions may be blind to racial and economic barriers faced by certain groups to participate in these solutions (Alkon and Agyeman 2011). Thus, sustainability as a concept must also extend beyond its environmental dimension, to recognize the ways in which societal contexts support the reproduction of societal-and-nature relations. This relates to the normative goal of sustainable wellbeing (Gough 2017), or how sustainability must include a consideration for theories of human wellbeing, and the wellbeing of nonhumans. This paper session welcomes contributions on how sustainability relates to social justice, across systems of provision, and in relation to labor issues, moral markets, and consumption practices. More specifically, we are interested in debates around questions of inequalities and social justice, in relation to sustainability, but also examples of what (collective) sustainability initiatives are emerging, their transformative possibilities, and the role of critical theories in uncovering further opportunities for socially just and environmentally sustainable change.

The community garden a synergistic site of human wellbeing: two case study of an eco-neighborhood in Geneva

Auxane Pidoux, Département de sociologie, Université de Genève

During the last twenty years, urban gardens have not been growing unnoticed. Becoming ever more important in the environmental and cultural debate, a growing interest for their potential benefits to human health and wellbeing has been increasingly studied at a global scale by scholars and by public policies. Indeed, many studies in natural and social sciences have been proving the positive effects of gardening practice in bettering human lives, individually and collectively. Community gardens have thus been positively correlated with physical and mental human health, as well as the strengthening of communities, improved neighborhood agreeability, and to some extent enhanced social engagement (Ulrich, 1984; Kaplan, 1995; Groenewegen, van den Berg, et al., 2006; Hartigh, 2013; Soga, Cox, et al., 2017; Bally, 2018). How gardening as a social practice contributes to human wellbeing and environmental sustainability remains to be further studied, towards answering the question: what are the elements that hinder or facilitate the satisfaction of the human needs of individuals, through the practice of participating in a collective of urban gardeners? One main hypothesis driving the interest in this research is to uncover whether such forms of participation lead to a sense of engagement in broader societal issues. By engaging with a social practice approach, empirical research was conducted to help uncover what means and resources are necessary towards achieving the satisfaction of human needs (Sahakian, Anantharaman, et al., 2020). Using a set of ‘protected needs’ validated for the Swiss context (di Guilio and Defila 2012), a comparative case study of two community gardens was conducted with the purpose of understanding how the social practice of gardening contributes to need satisfaction. 

Based on a triangulation of a field work involving five days of participatory observations and ten in-depth interviews with a sample, the results confirm the wellbeing- urban gardens nexus. However, the contribution of the practice theory could further demonstrate what role competencies, materials and institutional arrangements (Schatzki, 2002) play in the satisfaction of needs. A trajectory of the practice (Warde, 2005) was observed and described as a three steps process of recruitment, integration and participation. This trajectory could explain, moreover, how individuals and collectives access the resources and means of their needs’ satisfaction through this process. The fieldwork also revealed the social inequalities that hinder some social groups from benefiting from the gardening practice. We conclude with reflections on how political and institutional actors might further support inclusive participation in the conception or co-design of eco-neighborhoods.

Keywords: participative urban gardening, gardening practices, social practice theories, human wellbeing, eudemonic wellbeing, sustainability, garden access inequalities, participation, eco-neighborhoods, social justice 

A micro-level Peace-building Method for Sustainable and Just Cities 

Burcu Eke Schneider, Peace Worker, Wuppertal 

Peace-building is a new method to reduce the power of the drivers of injustice in the context of sustainable urban development. It challenges cities inclusivity, top-down and bottom-up power structures, multi-sectoral approaches. It is necessary to build international understanding issues relating inequalities and political will to activate and engage local communities. By engaging with local leaders, institutions, politicians and communities, as transformers we need to start to adopt plural approach to inequality, which involves moving. The question I have is: How can equitable and sustainable environmental solutions in our city help to ensure that lessons are learned from the current crisis that will enable "constructive change" for all? A pilot study as a peace activist-scholar approach is conducted to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in a real-life context. Alevi Cultural Centre is a space of migration background community, religious devotion and music-making in Wuppertal. Together with Alevis and international participants have created a peace garden in February 2020 to live inclusion, build awareness for women's empowerment, implement peacebuilding strategies, contribute to more climate justice and learn about biodiversity on a micro level. Behind the creation of vegetables and herbal beds in the middle of the city was the idea that common actions and goals help build mutual respect and just transition. In a short time, without external financial support, these activities succeeded in getting people from different cultural backgrounds interested in the idea of just and sustainable living in Wuppertal. The group members - mainly women - started to work for constructive change where they live. In the meantime, the project team presented this local idea of creating intercultural peace gardens in urban spaces at the level of the EU Parliament and at the international conference of Alevi communities, among others. After first year research experience, I investigated an ability of individuals change over time in response to inclusive transformation process and asked how peace-building method is effective for sustainable outcomes. As a result it didn’t just change individual’s micro-level attitudes and behaviours but also catalysed to build a bridge in between several actors in the city, used nature-based solutions to find solutions and helped researcher to analyse the traumatised relations in between several actors.

Keywords: Inclusion, Micro-level Transformation, Sustainable and Just Cities, Peacebuilding, Conflict Analysis, Nature-based Solutions, Women Empowerment.

Sustainable fashion in the city: Access and inequality in Geneva second-hand stores

Katia Vladimirova, IRS University of Geneva

Fashion has recently come to the spotlight in the media due to its various negative environmental and social impacts. The key issues that have attracted attention are the working conditions of millions of workers along the complex supply chains of the fashion industry, especially ‘fast fashion’ brands, in the Global South (Minney 2018), environmental pollution that comes from production processes and transport (Niinimaki et al. 2020), and post-consumer textile waste (McArthur Foundation 2017). However, consumption side of the fashion system received much less attention. Policy efforts that aim to enable a transition towards more sustainable forms of apparel consumption in Europe focus on reuse with the goal of keeping garments in use for longer (EEA 2019). Bottom-up social processes that contribute to this goal are referred to in the literature as ‘collaborative fashion consumption’ (Iran & Schraeder 2017) and involve buying second-hand, swapping, and renting garments. 

In this context, it is important to note that changes in social practices related to increasing reuse of clothes have different impacts on different groups of people and may affect disproportionally some of the more vulnerable populations, including low-income groups, people with disabilities, and the LGBT+ community. Issues of access and inequality in collaborative fashion consumption are new and warrant attention from the scholarly community, as well as from policy makers who want to advance more sustainable forms of fashion consumption (Henninger et al. 2021).

This study analyses collaborative fashion consumption scene in the city of Geneva, which includes second-hand resale shops, swapping, and renting initiatives. Using desk research, interviews, and observations, research focuses on who is included and who may be excluded from these sharing and collaborative consumption practices. Part of an ongoing project “Geneva – City of Responsible Fashion” funded by the G’Innove grant of the City of Geneva, this research aims to generate policy-relevant findings and inform all relevant stakeholders about possible trade-offs and disproportional burdens that may emerge as a result of promoting more sustainable forms of apparel consumption in the city.

Keywords: fashion, sustainability, collaborative fashion consumption, inequalities