Interventions in practice: re-framing policy approaches to consumer behaviour

N. Spurling, A. McMeekin, E. Shove, D. Southerton, D. Welch

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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This report introduces a novel approach to sustainability policy— a practice perspective. We argue that social practices are a better target of intervention for sustainability policy than ‘behaviour’, ‘choice’ or technical innovation alone. Understanding the dynamics of practices offers us a window into transitions towards sustainability.We consume resources as part of the practices that make up everyday life—showering, doing the laundry, cooking or driving—what we might call inconspicuous or ordinary consumption. While we may have degrees of choice in how we perform these practices, access to resources (economic, social, cultural), norms of social interaction, as well as infrastructures and institutional organisation constrain our autonomy. Practices are social phenomena—their performance entails the reproduction of cultural meanings, socially learnt skills and common tools, technologies and products. This shift of perspective places practices, not individuals or infrastructures, at the centre stage of analysis. Taking practices as the unit of analysis moves policy beyond false alternatives—beyond individual or social, behaviour or infrastructure. A practice perspective re-frames the question from “How do we change individuals’ behaviours to be more sustainable?” to “How do we shift everyday practices to be more sustainable?” After all, ‘behaviours’ are largely individuals’ performances of social practices.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Manchester, Sustainable Practices Research Group
Number of pages56
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2013


  • Social practices, sustainability, sustainable, consumption, policy, intervention, behaviour change

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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