Busy, wise and idle time : a study of the temporalities of consumption in the environmental debate

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2006-06-12
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Organisaatiot ja johtaminen
Organization and Management
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197 s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 275
This study addresses the multifaceted and contradictory temporalities of consumption in the environmental debate. The dominant ideas of ecological modernization approach consumption using the conceptual tools of household economics. That is, consumption is perceived of as production, and regarded as instrumental. The critics of ecological modernization frequently draw on Romanticism, and put forward sensibilities different from that of a rational economic agent. For them, human action – also modern consumption – is imbued with meanings and significant as it takes place. These claims are gaining currency in the form of widespread requests for improved quality of life as opposed to further economic growth. In this study these debates are reformulated by referring to the different temporalities of human action. The temporality of economic action constructs time as a scarce resource to be allocated optimally. However, it is equally conceivable that human action unfolds as intrinsically meaningful and self-legitimizing action. Furthermore, these different temporalities are subject to a constant struggle. Busyness and the scarcity of time are deeply rooted in modern societies. They are manifest in convenience technologies, in labour relations and as the prevalent ideology of making good use of one’s time. They are also embedded in economics and the management sciences. Hence, this study argues that the institutionalizing policy field of sustainable consumption depends on the capacity to deliberately deconstruct busyness and to counter-imagine the abundance of time as a political utopia. The study points to two different alternatives. Firstly, the study focuses on accounting methods. It utilises time use survey data to develop and carry out a decomposition analysis of the societal energy flows. This analysis matches the time use categories of non-market time with the use of respective products and services. The central methodological problem is the pairing of consumption expenditure data and time use survey data. Allowing such pairing, it is possible to study how changes in time use are linked to changes in the structure of the economy. On the other hand, this accounting frame also addresses busyness. It constructs all time use outside of market work as intrinsically meaningful and positions non-market time as a final source of utility. Secondly, drawing on practice theories and on empirical material on wooden boating, the study points to the way that the object world configures human temporalities. It shows how individuals end up dedicated, and willing, even obliged, to give time to boats and serve other interests than their own apparent well-being. On a more abstract level, it is argued that social practices establish their own criteria for efficient means and proper ends, and that they thus also fragment the reasoning about time. Finally, the study argues that the environmental debate itself reinforces busyness as an ideology. The apparent urgency of the environmental problems calls for better management and for radical innovations in technology. Hence, these problems solidify the position of science and the assumption of scarcity. By no coincidence then is the environmental debate a highly modern field in the contemporary societies. Nevertheless, emerging concerns over quality of life imply that the policy field of sustainable consumption faces a clash of temporalities and must increasingly arbitrate between them
Supervising professor
Lovio, Raimo, professor
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