The dependence on staying updated : a social practice approach to consumption of personal electronics
Abstract: The Swedes are consuming personal electronics like never before, despite knowledge of environmental and social issues that comes with production, use and waste management of these products. The aim of this study is therefore to develop a deeper understanding of the practice of consuming electronics and its sustainability aspects. According to practice theory, a practice is the setting in which the social is performed and can be described as a block of interconnected elements. Actors are carriers of a practice where qualities such as understanding, know-how and purposes are not seen as characteristics of the individual but as part of a practice where individuals take part. Practice theory helps to move away from theories of individual consumer choice when it comes to environmental behaviour research. By using the analytical framework by Shove, Pantzar & Watson (2012) the elements that make up the practice are placed into the categories competence, meaning and material. Through interviews with eight consumers in a Swedish municipality, the elements that characterise the practice of consuming electronics are put in words as well as the consumers’ thoughts on what is missing to make the practice more sustainable. The interviewees feel they can act competently in the practice by having knowledge about technology, brands, safety, price and product requirements. The meaning they get from participation is access to society, a sense of belonging and pleasure from using the electronic devices. These devices are the most important materials in the practice which are held up by the infrastructure of the internet and influenced by marketing. There is a lack of sustainability knowledge in the practice, which keeps it unsustainable. However, when the sustainability knowledge shows, guilt of consuming electronics can lead to decreased consumption or consumption of second-hand products instead of new. The lack of accessible green infrastructures is another thing making the practice unsustainable. To be able to compare products from a sustainability perspective is something the interviewees are missing. The pushing marketing infrastructure is also perceived as preventing sustainability. The interviewees feel the need and the expectation to own updated electronic devices to be able to communicate and access societal infrastructure. Since producing companies don’t build computers and mobile phones to last for more than a couple of years, this leads to a rapid turn-over of electronic products.
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