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Unit information: Consumption, Consumer Culture and Sustainability in 2020/21

Unit name Consumption, Consumer Culture and Sustainability
Unit code SOCI30103
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Jessica Paddock
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The impact that growing levels of consumption in the Global North has upon the environment has sparked much scholarly debate, policy initiatives, and civil society action. This unit explores and unpacks a variety of perspectives that theorise consumption, consumer culture and their environmental consequences. Beginning with Critical and Green Marxist scholarship, Post-Colonial Social Theory, Material Culture, and Theories of Practice, the unit equips the student to critically reflect upon the ‘problem’ of consumption. The unit reflects upon the potential to realise societal transition towards more sustainable ways of living in the future, paying attention to empirical areas of ‘ordinary’ consumption; energy, transport, food, and clothing.


  • Introduce students to theoretical frameworks utilised in social scientific thinking about the relationship between consumption, consumer culture and the environment.
  • Develop students’ understanding of relationship between the practice of everyday life, consumer culture, and environmental sustainability.
  • Encourage students to think critically about the potential to realise more sustainable ways of living through consumer practice, as currently framed by market, policy and civil society discourses of ‘behaviour change’.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

1. Understand and explain a range of conceptual frameworks relevant to the sociology of consumption, the sociology of food, and environmental sociology.

2. Apply their understanding of these theoretical frameworks to explore the relationship between consumption and its social and environmental consequences.

3. Evaluate a range of conceptual positions and policy responses to environmental challenges in order to generate insights regarding the potential for societal transition towards more sustainable ways of living in the future.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

Summative (25%): 1,500-word essay (tests ILO1)

Summative (75%): 3,000-word essay (tests ILOs 2 & 3)

Reading and References

  • Harrison, R. Newholm, T. and Shaw, D. (2005) The Ethical Consumer. London: SAGE.
  • Jackson, T. (2006) The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption. London: Earthscan.
  • Lyon, S. and Moberg, M. (2010) Fair trade and social justice: global ethnographies. New York: New York University Press.
  • Micheletti, M., Follesdal, A. and Stolle, D. (2007) Politics, Products and Markets: Exploring Political Consumerism Past and Present. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Miller, D. (2012) Consumption and its Consequences. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Paddock, J. (2016) ‘Positioning Food Cultures: Alternative Food as Distinctive Consumer Practice’, Sociology. 50 (6) pp.1039-1055.
  • Sassatelli, R. (2007) Consumer Culture: History, Theory, Politics. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Warde, A. (2017) Consumption. London: Palgrave Macmillan.