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Gender and sustainable consumption : Results and Conceptual Insights from Six Projects in the Research Programme "Sustainable Consumption - From Knowledge to Action"

Melanie Jäger-Erben, Ursula Offenberger, Julia C. Nentwich & Martina Schäfer

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abstract Although the relevance of gender issues in research on sustainability and sustainable consumption has been emphasized by different authors over the last decade (e.g. Weller 2004; Martine/Villarael 1997), there are still ‘gender gaps’ as well as a lack of differentiated research (Vinz 2009) in this area. The integration of a gender perspective has been a prominent demand in the call for proposals of the research programme ‘Sustainable consumption – from knowledge to action’ funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in 2006. The presentation will discuss results related to gender and sustainable consumption from six projects conducted within this programme. These projects dealt with different aspects of the field of sustainable
consumption, and results were gained on three different dimensions of ‘doing gender’: - individual dimension: differences between the sexes concerning attitudes, behaviours and orientations, -structural dimension: role of gendered social structures and the distribution of work in families and/or couples, and -symbolic dimension: gendered patterns of interpretation, knowledge structures and artefacts. Approaches at the individual level revealed for example that – even if there are some areas where tasks are distributed ‘traditionally’ among men and women (e.g. women being more often responsible for cooking and washing) – responsibilities are shared and decisions are made jointly in most areas. Considering structural and symbolic dimensions allows for
contextualising and explaining differences and similarities between the sexes. It shows for instance how life course transition changes consumption patterns and demands in households as well as the related distribution of tasks. Furthermore, it illustrates how single consumption decisions and activities are embedded in the broader context of social practices in the areas of homemaking and everyday life. Overall, the results indicate a rather complex relationship between gender and consumption that goes beyond merely analysing individual differences. For a more developed understanding of
the intertwined practices of 'doing gender' and 'doing consumption', we conclude that future research should therefore provide further analysis of the relevance of structural and symbolic dimensions and their mutual interrelatedness with the individual dimension. These findings have consequences for research programmes on sustainable consumption. The analysis of gender and consumption as intertwined practices cannot
be facilitated by simply adding gender as another variable. It rather requires a major shift of perspective: individual behaviour is not only embedded in a social context, but structural and material aspects of action become more prominent when gender is analyzed as a situated practice. With regard to methodology and research design, recommendations will be provided on how to integrate gender analyses into sustainability research programmes.
type conference paper (English)
project Soziale, ökologische und ökonomische Dimensionen eines nachhaltigen Energiekonsums in Wohngebäuden
name of conference Sustainable Consumption Conference 2011 (Hamburg, Germany)
date of conference 6-11-2011
title of proceedings Towards Action and Impact
volume / edition Abstract Volume
publisher International Scientific Conference (Hamburg)
ISBN 978-3-906456-67-6
review blind review
citation Jäger-Erben, M., Offenberger, U., Nentwich, J. C., & Schäfer, M. (2011). Gender and sustainable consumption: Results and Conceptual Insights from Six Projects in the Research Programme "Sustainable Consumption - From Knowledge to Action". In Towards Action and Impact, Abstract Volume. Hamburg: International Scientific Conference. - ISBN 978-3-906456-67-6.