The Weight of the World: Rhetorics of Choice, Freedom and Responsibility in Green Consumption
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This thesis begins with the simple observation that the term ‘green consumption’ would have appeared, at the very least, oxymoronic to those concerned with environmental issues some thirty years ago. Yet now it is a commonplace aspect of popular, academic and policy discourse in the global north. In recognizing the diversity of products and services that fall under the rubric of ‘green consumption,’ this project situates it as a form of discursive positioning and a potential set of a practices that indicate a ‘friendly’ or benign association between consumption and the environment. The thesis has three components. Firstly, it reviews the literature on consumer culture and environmentalism, highlighting relevant thematic debates concerning the critique of consumer culture and its potential effects upon the environment. Secondly, the thesis constructs a post-Foucauldian ‘analytics of green consumption’ in order to understand such a radical shift in representations of consumption and environmental thinking. Thirdly, the thesis employs this analytics to examine two dominant ‘environmentalities’ or programmes of green consumption – Eco Labelling and the Ecological Footprint – wherein the advanced liberal rhetorics of ‘choice,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘responsibility’ are found to operate in different ways. Drawing upon the work of Rose (1999), Barry et al. (1996) and others, the thesis shows how these ‘informational’ techniques are predicated upon and reproduce specific conceptions of consumer behaviour, encouraging the formation of ‘green consumer-subjects.’ It is argued that the terrain of consumption has become the primary locus where political, social, economic and cultural elements overlap to shape the decisions of consumers. The field of consumption is being restructured around lifestyle choice-driven models of responsible subjectivity, with consumption becoming the key means for shaping the conduct of individual citizens. The thesis goes on to argue that such a market-based approach to engendering green consumption is problematic in terms of its conception of how consumer choice and freedom are constrained, raising difficult issues for policy efforts in this area. The thesis also points toward the limits of post-Foucauldian analyses of green consumption, especially the impossibility of knowing whether, and for what reasons, practices of green consumption are taken up by consumers.