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The Centre for the Study of Behaviour Change and Influence

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Position Papers 1 & 2

We are very pleased to announce that the position papers are ready to go and will be available to view on this blog from today. If you are attending the seminar next week then don't forget that you can submit questions or thoughts about these papers at any time over the next week by tweeting us using the hashtag #BCPPF. Alternatively you can also comment directly on this blog.

We start with submissions by Professors Mike Kelly and Alan Warde.



Professor Mike Kelly, NICE
Theories of social practice developed in Sociology and conventional models of behaviour change

This position paper will focus on the connection between the theories of social practice developed in Sociology and conventional models of behaviour change.  The importance of taking a social as well as an individual approach will be considered.  The paper will explore the underlying predictive approach to behaviour change and trace its origins to the successes of public health in dealing with communicable disease in the nineteenth century and smoking in the twentieth century.  The tendency to define all behaviour as risky will be explored and the importance of disassembling  the component parts of behaviours that are changing or may be subject to change will be considered.  Some results from the work of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge will be presented.

Professor Alan Warde, University of Manchester
Sustainable consumption and policies for behaviour change

Patterns of personal and household consumption are major sources of pressure for sustainability. The preferred response of incumbent political elites is economic growth and technological innovation. This is very unlikely to be adequate; governments implicitly admit as much by deeming it necessary to address sustainability as a problem of changing personal and collective behaviour. The current political fashion, at least in the UK and USA, is for ‘behavioural change’ initiatives which encourage citizens to assume greater ‘personal responsibility’ for their lifestyles and their ‘choices’ in the market-place. Such solutions relieve governments of responsibility and appeal to a common-sense western understanding of consumption, in terms of consumer sovereignty. Political ‘solutions’ are strongly rooted in a perception that the figure to be dealt with (arguably an ideological and imaginary figure) is the ‘sovereign consumer’, who, relatively autonomously, reflects on his/her lifestyle, in light of available money and time, and selects goods and services entirely voluntarily to match preferences and values. Most would say that these policy approaches have been ineffective. Arguably that is because of a basic failure to see consumption as a form of social and practical activity.

Cognitive science (and Behavioural Economics) suggests that action rarely proceeds from consulting our values and attitudes, but is instead rapid responses to cues provided in the external environment, conjured up from habits and intuitions about the nature of the situation in which we find ourselves. This implies that to alter behaviour requires changing the environment of action rather than changing people’s minds. As individuals we often have limited control over what things we use and how we use them. Convention, infrastructure and shared goals constrain everyone. Types and levels of consumption tend to be determined socially and collectively. A practice-theoretical approach acknowledges this, proposing that consumption is less a matter of individual expression and choice, and more a corollary of the conventions of the range of the specific, socially-organized practices felt to be necessary to live a good life. For much of the time participation in a practice means nothing more than the requisitioning of familiar items and their routine application to well understood activities. Performances recognised as competent – for example in the environmentally sensitive fields of eating, heating and cooling, and transport – are orientated by and towards collectively accredited and locally situated conventions associated with such practices. Hence behaviour change targeted at influencing individual choice at the point of purchase will never suffice. New modes of intervention are required, with less emphasis on personal education or ethical conversion and more on reviewing the social organization and infrastructures of particular practices.

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