The Sustainable Consumption Institute at the European Sociological Association Conference 2019
SCI research was well represented at ESA2019 in Manchester.
From 20-23 August 2019, Manchester’s Oxford Road resonated with the sound of numerous sociological conversations as over 3,000 European sociologists gathered for ESA2019, the biennial conference of the European Sociological Association. The conference took place in venues across the campuses of University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Bridgewater Hall. Delegates enjoyed plenary talks by Michel Wieviorka (Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, France), Manuela Boatc? (University of Freiburg, Germany), Michèle Lamont (Harvard University, USA), Nasar Meer (University of Edinburgh, UK) and Sari Hanafi (American University of Beirut, Lebanon), which together provided much stimulating food for thought on the timely theme for the conference: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging.
Staff, students and fellows of the Sustainable Consumption Institute were involved in ESA2019 in an array of ways. SCI researchers Tally Katz-Gerro, Helen Holmes and Catherine Walker represented Manchester Sociology on the cross-university Local Organising Committee. In addition to feeding into the intellectual direction of the conference, they undertook a range of tasks including: organising a local Universities’ book stall; recruiting and supervising the 100 student volunteers; overseeing the design of conference merchandise; and co-organising the LOC research stream and semi-plenary talk.
As ever, the conference provided an unparalleled opportunity to share and discuss SCI research with colleagues from across the continent. SCI research was most heavily represented in sessions of the Research Network on the Sociology of Consumption (RN05), one of ESA’s largest research networks, in which SCI sociologists have played a prominent role. The diversity of the thematic sessions organised by RN05 at the conference can be seen in the range of presentations delivered by SCI researchers. Professor Alan Warde presented with former SCI Research Associates Jessica Paddock and Jennifer Whillans on ‘Unpacking omnivorousness: locating the British ‘foodie’’, drawing on the major SCI-funded project on ‘Eating Out’ in the UK which Alan led. Alan also presented with former Manchester PhD Irmak Karademir Hazir (Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Oxford Brookes University) on ‘Change in the Consumption of the Rich in the UK, 1967-2018’, a study of the Financial Times’ ‘How to Spend It’ supplement. Helen Holmes and Ulrike Ehgartner presented recently completed SCI-funded research on ‘Exploring lost property and the materiality of absence’. Luke Yates presented on work in collaboration with Daniel Welch on ‘Social movements, everyday practices and political economic transformation’. Steffen Hirth presented his recently completed SCI-funded PhD research ‘Food that matters: Exploring the material-discursive boundaries between animal-sourced and vegan food practices’. Elsewhere in the Research Network on Environment and Society, Catherine Walker, Tally Katz-Gerro and Sherilyn MacGregor presented on their SCI-funded research with Somali immigrants in Manchester, entitled ‘Challenging Dominant Understandings of Sustainability: Continuities and Change in Migrants’ Sustainability Practices’.
Two Research Streams—multiple sessions built around shared themes—were organised by SCI researchers. Both reflected the nascent focus on the subject of the future in contemporary Sociology. Catherine Walker co-organised the LOC research stream with Elisa Pieri (Sociology, University of Manchester): ‘Urban Futures: Visions for Social Inclusion’ (RS18). The idea behind this one-off stream was to explore the conference theme of boundaries, barriers and belonging with reference to future visions of urban centres in Europe and beyond. Participants were invited to consider the role of the future and other temporalities in city visions, as well as the messages about social inclusion that such visions convey by foregrounding or marginalizing particular social groups. At a time when it has become common for city authorities to publish ‘strategy’ documents presenting a vision of the future city, this stream drew a very interesting range of presentations that considered the populations, places, infrastructures and heritages that are prioritised (or hidden from view) in envisioning diverse cities as Gothenburg, Helsinki, Aberdeen, Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Abuja, Barcelona, Rotterdam, London and our very own Manchester. A common theme across the presentations was that buildings and other infrastructures (and perhaps implicitly the practices they enable) become markers of the city’s present or future sustainability in such heavily marketed visions, with much less attention given to people as enablers of sustainability. This resonated with earlier questions raised by Professor Michael Keith in his semi-plenary, also organised by Elisa Pieri and Catherine Walker. Discussing technologies such as defibrillators, smart watches and platform services, Professor Keith raised the question of whether technologies enable or constrain, whether they render people powerful or powerless to the development of the city taking place around them.
Daniel Welch co-organised ‘Practicing the Future: Social, Material and Affective Futures’ (RS10), the largest Research Stream at the conference, with Professor Giuliana Mandich (University of Cagliari, Italy. Professor Mandich, whose work focuses on youth, everyday life and the future, is an advisor on Daniel Welch’s “Imagined Futures of Consumption” project. Studies of futurity in Sociology are flourishing, with new contributions from diverse sub-fields. The purpose of RS10 was to create a space for these diverse fields to engage with their shared concerns around the future as an analytical object. The research stream opened with contributions from former ESA president Professor Carmen Leccardi (University of Milano-Bicocca), who spoke on “Practicing The Future In A Time Of Crisis—Young People Facing Social Acceleration”, and fellow youth studies luminary Professor Peter Kelly (RMIT University, Australia) who addressed “Young People and the Anthropocene: Futures Past and Present?”. Former SCI Director Professor Dale Southerton (University of Bristol) presented on “Re-imagining Domestic Futures as Collective Temporal Rhythms: A Critical Analysis of Smart Home Technologies”. SCI Research Associate Ulrike Ehgartner presented on her research with Daniel Welch on their “Imagined Futures of Consumption” project, reporting on their analysis of lay expectations of the future of consumption from the project’s recent collaboration with the Mass Observation Project at the University of Sussex. Further contributions came from fields as diverse as science and technology studies, sociology of medicine, cultural sociology, security studies, rural sociology and sustainability. The enthusiasm generated by the one-off Research Stream led to a proposal by co-organisers Daniel Welch and Giuliana Mandich, with former ESA president Carmen Leccardi, to launch a permanent Research Network in the European Sociological Association on the Sociology of the Future.
Lastly, the SCI’s Alan Warde was elected onto the ESA Executive Committee. Alan has been instrumental in the growth and strength of the ESA’s Research Network on the Sociology of Consumption (RN05) over many years, in which his work has been hugely influential. Next year will see RN05 convene for its biennial conference in Oslo, organised by the Consumption Research Institute Norway (SIFO, Oslo Met), which has also played an important role in the network over the years. SCI research will be well represented in Olso and will continue to make a significant contribution to the sociology of consumption, of the environment and of social movements within the European Sociological Association.