Is identity a barrier to reductions in consumption?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Our paper deals with the relationship between consumption, identity, and ecological sustainability. Understanding this relationship, its dynamics, and implications for strongly sustainable consumption – that is: reductions in consumption and material throughput – is important but not necessarily all that clear-cut.

Much of the existing literature would agree that issues related to identity plays a central role in the possibilities of reducing the consumption of affluent individuals. If consumption is central to identity, what will happen to individual identities in a situation in which the main source (according to the dominant theories), namely consumption, is reduced? How likely is it that these individuals will support policies for strongly sustainable consumption that – when understood this way – will not only ask them to change their behaviours and lifestyles, but also their identity, their sense of self? (e.g. Hamilton, 2010)

Identity matters a great deal for reducing consumption, but perhaps not in the ways usually portrayed i.e. in the form of an identity-void, which is seen as the largest identity-related barrier to reductions in consumption. We argue that this might be an exaggerated concern because: i) what in contemporary dominant theories is discussed is not so much identity, but image and style; ii) other sources than consumption are still relevant in the formation, maintenance and expression of identity; iii) the most ecologically damaging forms of consumption the type of consumption that needs to be reduced the most, is not mainly identity-based or driven, but instead mostly everyday practices performed by people locked-in by structures and forms of ‘institutional consumption’.

Our empirical study suggests that it might be useful to look at consumerism as a form of governmentality that influences people, their imaginaries, values, and identities – so that even environmentally aware individuals have difficulties thinking outside the consumer identity box and the tools it offers, and thereby disempowering them by denying them agency as political actors, as citizens, and hindering them in the creation of the political space needed for strongly sustainable consumption policies. This may very well be the largest and most serious identity-related barrier to reductions in consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication6th International Degrowth Conference for ecological sustainability and social equity : Dialogues in turbulent times
Publication date21.08.2018
Publication statusPublished - 21.08.2018
MoE publication typeA4 Article in conference proceedings


  • 999 Others
  • consumption
  • identity
  • ecological sustainability
  • degrowth


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