Social Change and the Coming of Post-consumer Society: Theoretical Advances and Policy Implications, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Social Change and the Coming of Post-consumer Society

Theoretical Advances and Policy Implications, 1st Edition

Edited by Maurie J Cohen, Halina Szejnwald Brown, Philip J Vergragt


234 pages | 24 B/W Illus.

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Consumer society is an unquestionably complex social construct. However, after decades of unremitting dominance there are signs emerging that it is starting to falter, both as a coherent and durable system of social organization and as a strategy for societal advancement. Debates concerning how we can transition beyond present energy- and materials-intensive consumer society are beginning to gain greater salience.

Social Change and the Coming of Post-Consumer Societyaims to develop more complete appreciation of the relevant processes of social change and to identify effective interventions that could enable a transition to supersede consumer society. Bringing together leading interdisciplinary experts on social change, the book identifies and analyzes several ongoing small- and modest-scale social experiments. Possibilities for macro-scale change from the interlinked perspectives of culture, economics, finance, and governance are then explored. These contributions expose the systemic problems that are emblematic of the current condition of consumer society, specifically the unsustainability of prevailing consumption practices and lifestyles and the persistence of inequalities. These observations are summarized and extended in the final chapter of the book.

This volume will be of great interest to students and scholars of sustainable consumption, sustainability transitions, environmental sociology, and sustainable development.


"Climate change, water shortages, and toxins in our food, air, and water. Loneliness and depression. Erosion of traditional values. These are among the problems that experts tell us we must solve for humanity to thrive, or even survive. However, these threats are symptoms of a deeper pathology, namely the desire for endless growth in consumption and the substitution of material goods for human relationships. This book sets out theory to understand how this came to be and what might be done about it, from an explicitly multidisciplinary perspective. The book also provides compelling accounts of exciting experiments in sustainable consumption now underway as people around the world seek to live within the limits of our finite planet, and in so doing, restore and heal our environment, our institutions, our communities, and ourselves." – John D. Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management and Director of the System Dynamics Group, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

"This fine collection focuses on the relationship between consumption and satisfaction, demonstrating how the economic culture of consumerism causes ecological damage, wasteful use of resources, and mindless yearning for distinction that is mistaken as the utter enjoyment of "freedom." The book explores examples and strategies of "interstitial" change unfolding in the niches of consumer societies, the pursuit of which is driven by both economic crises affecting households and radical ideas of socioeconomic change as well as change of lifestyles. With a balanced focus on both novel practices of consumption and the policies needed to facilitate and nurture them, this volume maps roads toward post-consumerism." – Claus Offe, Professor Emeritus of Political Sociology, Hertie School of Governance, Germany

"If we want a sustainable and healthy environment, it is essential to shift decisively from a hyper-consumerist society. However, we live in a capitalist economy and stable capitalism depends on consumerism. What is to be done in the face of such a sharp contradiction? Social Change and the Coming of Post-consumer Society explores a wide range of approaches to this question. This book marks an important contribution to this area of inquiry. " – Erik Olin Wright, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin and former President of the American Sociological Association, USA

"How do we transform political and economic structures in order to allow everyone to live meaningful lives with less intensive forms of consumption? Where do we start, and who will do the job? These are defining questions during an era of secular stagnation and impending climate disaster, and this book provides an important contribution in the quest for viable solutions." – Giorgos Kallis, ICREA Professor, ICTA-Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain

"Based on multiple case studies and theories of change, this book argues that the foundational pillars of consumer society are faltering. Drawing on a shared set of theories—from transition management to Karl Polanyi’s embeddedness theorems—the volume contends that without deep changes in macroeconomic and political orientations, and mechanisms that escape current lock-ins, it will not be possible to achieve broad sociocultural change. The message is not of certainty or desperation, but rather of hope. By appealing to deeper values, broad change is possible. A must read for activists as much as for sustainability and consumption researchers." Joachim Spangenberg, Vice-Chair, Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Germany

Table of Contents

I. Consumption and Social Change: An Introductory Discussion and Synthetic Framework

1. Introduction, Halina Szejnwald Brown Philip J. Vergragt, and Maurie J. Cohen

II. Niches of Social Innovation

2. The New Sharing Economy: Enacting the Eco-habitus Juliet B. Schor and Robert Wengronowitz

3. Toward a More Solidaristic Sharing Economy: Examples from Switzerland Marlyne Sahakian

4. Social Change at the Nexus of Consumption and Politics: A Case Study of Local Food Movements Emily Huddart Kennedy

5. Institutionalization Processes in Transformative Social Innovation: Capture Dynamics in the Social Solidarity Economy and Basic Income Initiatives Tom Bauler, Bonno Pel, and Julia Backhaus

6. Consumption and Social Change: Sustainable Lifestyles in Times of Economic Crisis Tally Katz-Gerro, Predrag Cvetičanin, and Adrian Leguina

III. Post-consumerist Transitions

7. Learning from History: When "Gestures of Change" Demand Policy Support Cindy Isenhour

8. Finance: An Emerging Issue in Sustainable Consumption Research Inge Røpke

9. Beyond "GDP" Indicators: Changing the Economic Narrative for a Post-consumerist Society? Anders Hayden and Jeffrey Wilson

10. Consumption, Governance, and Transitions: How Reconnecting Consumption and Production Opens Up New Perspectives for Sustainable Development Derk A. Loorbach

IV. Social Change Toward Post-consumer Society

11. Conclusion and Outlook Philip J. Vergragt, Maurie J. Cohen, and Halina Szejnwald Brown

About the Editors

Maurie J. Cohen is Professor of Sustainability Studies and Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Society in the Department of Humanities at the New Jersey Institute of Technology , USA.

Halina Szejnwald Brown is Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at Clark University and a Fellow at the Tellus Institute, USA.

Philip J. Vergragt is Professor Emeritus of Technology Assessment at Delft University, the Netherlands, and currently a Fellow at the Tellus Institute and a Research Fellow at Clark University, USA.

About the Series

Routledge-SCORAI Studies in Sustainable Consumption

The past decade has seen a remarkable increase in academic and policy interest in the notion of sustainable consumption, particularly as the implementation challenges associated with a substantive international agreement on climate protection have become apparent.

Comprising edited collections, co-authored volumes and single author monographs, Routledge-SCORAI Studies in Sustainable Consumption aims to continue this process of intellectual consolidation, while simultaneously advancing conceptual and empirical contributions to this new and important field of study. In particular, this series will explore key issues such as the emergence of new modes of household provisioning, the evolution toward post-consumerist systems of social organization, novel approaches to consumption governance and innovative business models for sustainable lifestyles.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, please contact Annabelle Harris, Editor for Environment and Sustainability: [email protected] 


The Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI) is an international knowledge network of approximately 1000 scholars and policy practitioners working at the interface of material consumption, human well-being, and technological and cultural change. For more information about SCORAI and its activities please visit

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy