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Sustainability and Swedish household consumption since the 1950s: the role of policy-driven socio-technical systems
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Social Sciences.
2009 (English)In: Programme for WCEH 4th-8th August 2009 / [ed] Verena Winiwarter, 2009Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In the contemporary debate on sustainable consumption, private consumption of energy, transportation, housing and food is given special attention, not the least since it constitutes significant share of total expenses but also since the environmental impacts are believed to be particularly negative. The objective of this paper is to broaden our understanding of: (a) the different consumption patterns of various Swedish household groups since the 1950s; and (b) the interrelationship between households' consumption patterns and national policy decisions during the same time period. The focus lies on consumer expenditures with significant negative impacts on the natural environment, and on policy decisions resulting in socio-technological and path-dependent systems introducing major inertia in the consumption patterns of Swedish households. The consumption patterns of over 2000 Swedish households have been examined and documented regularly since 1958 by Statistics Sweden. By studying these data we learn that although private consumption in total has increased extensively in all types of households since the post-war period, consumption patterns have varied substantially across the different groups. The shares of energy, transportation and housing expenses vary over time but also across different groups of households. A more detailed understanding of the different consumption patterns of various household groups since the 1950s may provide important lessons for contemporary environmental policy, for instance by illustrating how income changes, family size and geography affect the propensity to purchase goods and services with negative impacts on the environment. In the paper we pay particular attention to the above consumption patterns in the context of a number of, for the Swedish post-war society central development paths, like those of the ‘car society', the housing policy and the retail trade. A number of post-war policy decisions have influenced Swedish households' consumption of cars and transportation services, and housing areas have increased substantially since the 1950s. Simultaneously, the public room has constantly become more and more commercialized. The post-war housing policy, the far-reaching car-adaptation of Swedish society and the ever-developing retail trade (from counter service towards external shopping-centers) can in combination be looked upon as large socio-technological systems. These are strongly linked as well as path dependent, i.e. self-reinforcing. In this way the paper contributes with a broader understanding of the interrelationship between households' actual consumption expenditures and past policy-decisions resulting in socio-technological and path-dependent systems.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Research subject
History of Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-37399Local ID: b66ec560-86bc-11de-8da0-000ea68e967bOAI: diva2:1010897
World Congress of Environmental History : 04/08/2009 - 08/08/2009

Godkänd; 2009; 20090811 (krisod)

Available from: 2016-10-03 Created: 2016-10-03 Last updated: 2016-10-19Bibliographically approved

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