Habits, routines and temporalities of consumption: From individual behaviours to the reproduction of everyday practices

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The terms habit and routine have come to be used with increasing frequency in debates about 'behaviour' change and sustainable consumption, where dominant approaches, dubbed as 'portfolio models of action' by their critics, employ these terms to capture human deficiencies in the translation of pro-environmental values into corresponding actions (the 'value-action' gap). Alternative approaches present habits and routines as the observable performances of stable practices. Informed by these approaches, this article makes three 'conceptual moves' in order to demonstrate the need for empirical attention to the temporal conditioning of everyday practices. First, it is argued that conceptual usages of the terms 'habit' and 'routine' are often imprecise and used generically to capture many different aspects of human action. A threefold conceptual framework comprising of 'dispositions', 'procedures' and 'sequences' is proposed as a preliminary step in dealing with this problem. Second, it is suggested that generic uses of the terms 'habit' and 'routine' imply multiple forms of temporality. Again, as a conceptual sorting exercise, three categories of temporality pertinent to understanding the performance of practices are examined: time as a resource; the temporal demands of practices; and temporal rhythms. Third, the relationships between the conceptual variants of habitual and routine actions and temporalities of practices are examined through reference to empirical research. In conclusion, it is argued that reducing habits and routines to generic descriptions of behaviour within portfolio models of action is inadequate for developing understandings of the reproduction of everyday practices. Rather, empirical and conceptual attention to the relationships between practices, temporalities and different forms of action are required if the challenge of fostering more sustainable ways of life is to be met. © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-355
Number of pages20
JournalTime and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • Behaviour
  • habits
  • practices
  • routines
  • sustainable consumption
  • time


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