A critical appraisal of Sustainable Consumption and Production research: The reformist, revolutionary and reconfiguration positions

Journal Article

This conceptual review article provides a critical appraisal of Sustainable Consumption and Production research, which is currently framed by two generic positions. First, the ‘reformist’ position, which focuses on firms pursuing green eco-innovations and consumers buying eco-efficient products, represents the political and academic orthodoxy. Second, the ‘revolutionary’ position, which is a radical critique of the mainstream, advocates the abolishment of capitalism, materialism, and consumerism, and promotes values such as frugality, sufficiency, and localism. We find this dichotomous debate problematic, because it is intellectually stifling and politically conservative (in its outcomes). To move beyond this dichotomy, we propose a third position, ‘reconfiguration’, which focuses on transitions in socio-technical systems and daily life practices and accommodates new conceptual frameworks. For each of the three positions, we discuss: (1) the scale and type of change, (2) views on consumption and production in exemplary approaches, (3) underlying theoretical, epistemological and normative orientations, (4) policy implications, and (5) critical appraisal. The conclusion compares the three positions, provides arguments for the fruitfulness of the reconfiguration-position and offers four critical reflections about future Sustainable Consumption and Production research agendas.

Read more about Frank Geels and his work at CIED.