Voluntary Simplifier - A Free Agent? Agency in a Post-Consumerist Lifestyle

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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The present paper seeks to further the understanding on post-consumerist individuals that express criticism towards the consumerist society and the consumption practices within. It does so through identifying common discourses these voluntary simplifiers use to make sense of and justify their engagement in the post-consumerist lifestyle. To address the lack of closer investigation on the relationship between post-consumerist lifestyle and agency, the present paper makes use of Foucauldian discursive theory and considers the participation in the lifestyle of voluntary simplicity as a mean to negotiate agency. In this study, I observe the agentic relationships these individuals construct towards structure, and further seek to understand how such negotiation is engaged in through talk of the post-consumerist routine consumption practices. The present paper builds on the existing literature on voluntary simplicity and agency, and Foucauldian understanding on discourses. The data for the present, qualitative, constructivist study was collected through personal, informal, open ended interviews. The data was then analyzed by applying the principles of Foucauldian discourse analysis. The findings were organized with the aid of Latour’s (1986) distinction of discourses to those of routine consumption practices in principle and in practice. The findings of this study demonstrate how both experience of agency and structure are constructed in discourses on two different levels, society/marketplace level and individual lifestyle level, and how they differ on each level. The findings further demonstrate how on one level discourses about routine consumption practices construct agency, while simultaneously creating structure on another level, providing support for the understanding of agency and structure as a continuum. The findings also provide strong support for and further build the understanding of agency as a contextually bound variable, experience of which is dynamic in nature. As its academic contribution, the present study provides support for and interconnects existing concepts related to agency. It further builds on these theories by, through combining the existing and adding new, reconstructing them into a concept of the construction and composition of an agentic relationship towards structure. Based on the findings, a conceptualization is proposed of how the dynamic experience of agency towards structure is composed. This conceptualization suggests that individuals form different agentic relationships towards structure based on the psychosocial context in which it is observed, the type of agency being considered and the temporal orientation one possesses. This study further contributes to the consumer culture theory by shedding light on the growing consumer group of post-consumerist voluntary simplifiers, and thus advances understanding of alternative consumption lifestyles in general. The present study further builds understanding of how, not only consumption, but also anti-consumption practices can be understood as demonstration of agency.
Thesis advisor
Toyoki, Sammy
Cozma, Petri
post-consumerism, agency, voluntary simplicity, critical consumerism, discourse analysis, discourses, consumer behaviour
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