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Dissertation

my supervisors

Pim Martenspim martens
professor of sustainable development

Gerjo Kokgerjo kok
professor of applied psychology

The study: living with less focuses on transformations in consumer behavior after a serious decrease in income and spending. It investigates dominant consumption theories from the unconventional perspective of reduction instead of rise, sheds a new light on frugality and combines empirical data of reduced consumption with sustainability.

The following issues are adressed:

  1. A critical review of consumer studies as academic discipline. We argue that through the common decontextualised epistemic approach consumer studies have landed in the political arena. Instead a holistic, multi disciplinary perspective is proposed, grounded in a definition of consumption as a fait total social, in line with the theory of the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss.
  2. A theoretical study of frugality as a core principle in consumer society. The thesis is that frugality is a strategic practice characterized by carefully handling of what is at one’s disposal: material goods, money, resources – and immaterial issues, such as services, personal energy, time or relations. So the focus is on the behavioral practices of moderate consumption (and not on the value or ideological dimensions of frugality).
  3. The first empirical study is an anthropological field research that resulted in a Transformation Model Living with Less. The model comprises seven stages of consumer behavioral change after a serious decline in income. The stages are: a) prelude, b) facing reality, c) coming out, d) restyling, e) repositioning, f )redefining, g) postlude. Each stage is defined by four characteristics: event, action, barrier, stimulus.
  4. The second empirical study concerns a quantitative survey of downshifters in the Netherlands. Downshifters are defined as people who voluntarily or involuntarily decreased their consumption pattern. Some results of the study are: characteristics of Dutch downshifters, their attitudes, as well as concrete changes in consumption. Striking result are the index of positive and negative experiences with regard to living with less, as well as data concerning indications for sustainability.
  5. In the final part of the study living with less is discussed in the perspective of sustainability. Advices for academic research, as well as for public policy are formulated.