A Practice Perspective for Sustainability Policy Interventions

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.

 

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