On the subject of social change and climate change policy

On March 21st the environmental politics group met to discuss Elizabeth Shove’s (2010) piece on theories of social change and climate change policy, a summary of which also appeared in the Guardian. This article was the first of the group’s series on the role of behaviour and behavioural change in environmental politics (see below for next event).

In the paper, Shove criticises theories of social change embedded in environmental policymaking in the UK. Emerging policies generally focus on the problem of human behaviour or the ABC model, as Shove refers to it. According to this model, social change is dependent upon “values and attitudes (the A), which are believed to drive the kinds of behaviour (the B) that individuals choose (the C) to adopt.”

The popularity and problem with the ABC approach, as Shove sees it, lies in the fact that it thinks the individual responsible for responding to climate change and thus effective policymaking as identifying and determining pro-environmental behaviour. However, this obscures government’s role in sustaining “unsustainable economic institutions and ways of life”, and ignores other barriers to change such as daily habits that are damaging to the environment.

Shove sees social scientists and disciplinary practices as partly responsible for the prevalence of the ABC paradigm. She laments the fact that social scientists are not leading the debate on how social transformation for the good of the environment can be brought about, and suggests scholars have been more concerned with disciplinary preoccupations than reaching out to policymakers for the purpose of initiating change.

The essay was a great opener to the behavioural change series, sparking much discussion and debate on the extent to which the ABC model now dominates disciplinary as well as policymaking approaches to environmental issues. Group members shared knowledge of the policymaking sphere and the science/policy interface in England and Wales as we attempted to piece together how and why this model became so popular and in what ways, if at all, it is being challenged.

The next event in the behavioural change series will be May 2nd at 1pm in the Meetings Room: Julie Guthman (2008) “Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice” in Cultural Geographies.


About Hannah Hughes

I am a lecturer in the School of Law and Politics. My research interests stem from my concern with environmental degradation and include: Climate change; knowledge and power; global environmental politics; environmental security
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