, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 669-699
Date: 16 Sep 2011

“Sustainable consumption” as a new phase in a governmentalization of consumption

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Abstract

With the rise of environmental themes and the increasing support of the “sustainable development” objective, public institutions have shown a renewed interest in the sphere of consumption. During the 1990s, a new dimension in public regulation was developed for the more downstream part of economic circuits, precisely to eliminate the negative effects of consumption and to be able to subject it to criteria of “sustainability.” The initiatives taken thus far have in fact mainly targeted the general population, primarily considered as a set of individual consumers. The latter are expected to become aware of their share of responsibility in the pressures exerted on natural resources and environments, and thus of the need to adapt their consumption habits in order to improve the situation. This article proposes to seize this dynamic, which seems to be expanding. It examines the discursive and programmatic frameworks, which together redefine the role of both the consumer and the citizen to arrive at an individual who can be interested and mobilized in favor of new recommendations. It analyzes the logic from which an effort attempting to make acts of consumption conform to renewed requirements has been established in its wake. This allows for a better understanding of the institutional devices that have been favored, in particular insofar as they appear to be the result of a constrained space of possibilities. In brief, it is a governmentality that tends to be deployed, although it is also likely to give rise to tensions.