Reclaiming unwanted things: alternative consumption practices, social change and the everyday

FODEN, Michael (2016). Reclaiming unwanted things: alternative consumption practices, social change and the everyday. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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This study looks at ways of acquiring, using and disposing of goods 'outside' the formal economy, focusing on three examples of reclamation practices: (1) giving and receiving goods free of charge via online reuse networks; (2) collecting and redistributing unwanted fruit from public and private spaces; and (3) reclaiming discarded food from supermarket bins. A central concern is with the relationship between everyday life and social change: how can engagement in these alternative yet mundane practices be conceptualised as a way to secure wider change? The research engages with and contributes to several intersecting debates, including: the relationship between 'alternative' and 'mainstream' economies; understandings of how new ways of doing things become adopted and spread; and interactions between values and practices. These issues are explored from a practice perspective. Analytical focus shifts from the attitudes and preferences of detached rational individuals to the social organisation of practices and the engagement of embodied social actors with those practices. Attention is paid to the lives of practices and their practitioners: how different social patterns of activity emerge and evolve; and how these become integrated into people's lives. In considering the lives of reclamation practices, analysis draws on participant observation, interviews and documentary sources. Moving on to the lives of practitioners, in-depth interview material takes centre stage, detailing how participants made sense of their engagement in these practices, how they became engaged, how engagement has been sustained and how it fits alongside other everyday practices. Findings can be summarised with respect to two analytical framings of reclamation practices, (1) as alternative consumption practices and (2) as a form of ordinary prefigurative politics. First, the research highlights the messy, overlapping nature of 'alternative' and 'mainstream' economic practices. On the one hand, aspects of capitalist social relations and market valuations continued to play a (problematic) role. On the other hand, concerns with saving money were not straightforwardly utility maximising and rarely existed in isolation from other-oriented social and environmental concerns. Second, the study adds to understandings of everyday practices as expressions of ordinary prefigurative politics, whereby prevailing social arrangements are subject to change by people acting differently. It sheds light on how people come to act differently, seldom a simple response to new information. Involvement in new practices was often a continuation and extension of existing activities. Introduction to new practices came about through interpersonal relationships and/or was prompted by changes in material circumstances. Both were important in practices becoming established in everyday life, as well as fitting alongside other ongoing commitments. Competing forms of value and values were negotiated in navigating between potential ways of acting. Conversely, ongoing engagement in practices helped shape the ways people valued things.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Gore, Tony
Additional Information: Director of Studies: Tony Gore
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Jill Hazard
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2018 14:23
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2021 13:44

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