Local environmentAchieving sustainable lifestyles or encouraging a counter-reflexivity

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Paper exploring the complexities of behavioural change

Paper exploring the complexities of behavioural change

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  • 1. Local Environment Vol. 14, No. 1, January 2009, 95 –109 Achieving sustainable lifestyles or encouraging a counter-reflexivity: exploring motivations for sustainability in a mediated risk society Gregory Borneà University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, UK Ulrich Beck’s World Risk Society is becoming an increasingly relevant analysis of contemporary human/environment interaction. However, with this said, Beck’s observations remain broad and significantly lacking empirical evidence. This paper explores the relationship between sustainable lifestyles and assertions of one of Beck’s central ideas, the emergence of a reflexive modernity at the local scale. By empirically examining the motivation of participants for joining a scheme designed to enhance sustainable lifestyles, this paper will progressively outline the way that individuals in a risk society negotiate global images in a local context and what this means for a reflexive modernity. By exposing the complex interaction of global risk imagery and the effect this has on achieving local sustainability, a more realistic understanding of Beck’s theoretical assertions can be applied to an increasingly important policy arena. Keywords: sustainable development; reflexivity; risk; governance; media Introduction Ulrich Beck’s World Risk Society Thesis (1999) provides increasingly relevant insights into the effect of global risk on social and political processes. Central to the Global Risk Society Thesis is the idea of reflexive modernity. A reflexive modernity is one in which the central elements of the industrial process are drawn into question. For example, science and tech- nology are no longer accepted as providing the answers to environmental and social pro- blems, the relationship between established science and unconventional knowledge has become blurred and the infiltration of the political into the scientific process disturbs the boundaries of expert and lay knowledge (Beck 1999, Irwin 2001, Irwin and Michaels 2003). Beck’s notion of reflexive modernity provides a sweeping analysis at both theQA: RB macro-political scale and the local and individual level. At the macro-level of analysis, Beck sees evidence of a reflexive modernity through the fluctuating architecture of theMaster Copy: JR state and the opening up of the governance process (Borne 2009a). Moving to what Beck refers to as the subpolitical scale of analysis at the local level, evidence of reflexive modernity is witnessed in changing political formation, altered family and work patterns, as well as the re-embedding of the individual in social and political networks. Of significant importance to Beck’s assertion of a reflexive modernityCopy Edited by: CDP at the local and individual level is the increase in environmental behaviour and the funda- mental questioning of developmental patterns based on scientific notions of progress. à Email: gregory.borne@plymouth.ac.uk ISSN 1354-9839 print/ISSN 1469-6711 online # 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13549830802522582 http://www.informaworld.com
  • 2. 96 G. BorneFor Beck, these processes are occurring in response to new forms of globalised risk. Thispaper focuses on the final prerequisite for evidence of a reflexive modernity at the local andindividual scale by exploring motivations of individuals for joining a scheme designed toenhance sustainable lifestyles. This paper’s primary argument asserts that participation ina scheme designed to enhance sustainable behaviour does not equate to evidence of a reflex-ive behavioural framework and hence draws into question certain assumptions about thenature of reflexive modernity at the local and individual level. The paper proceeds in the following manner. Initially, the idea of reflexivity is explored.Following this, Beck’s position on evidence for the emergence of a reflexive modernity atthe local level is critically reviewed. This will predominantly involve a discussion thatexpands on the relationship between knowledge and behaviour. The methodologysection will outline the relevant methodological issues that were involved in conductingthis research. The results section will progressively build up a picture of the complexitythat is involved in equating pro-environmental behaviour for evidence of a reflexivemodernity by highlighting four primary themes. The paper will conclude by addressingthe theoretical and policy implications of these findings.Reflecting on reflexivityThe notion of reflexivity is presented variously and often conflictingly in the literature, Theprimary misunderstanding concerning reflexive modernity occurs when consideringwhether reflexivity represents first, a purposeful knowledge-based action, which may betermed reflection, or secondly should be considered as the unintended consequence of mod-ernity which is reflexivity, While his position fluctuates over time, Beck argues that reflexivemodernity is a “. . . reflex-like threat to industrial society’s own foundations through afurther modernisation which is blind to dangers, and the growth of awareness, and thereflection of this situation” (Beck 1999, p. 81). It may be surmised from this that Beckmoves towards a definition of reflexivity that is formed through a combination of reflexivityand reflection. Although this intermingling of the reflexive and reflective dimensions ofreflexive modernity is evident, there is little indication as to what degree each constitutesa reflexive modernity in a WRS (Elliot 2002). With this established, it is argued that the act of reflection does not provide evidenceof reflexivity. For this to occur at the individual level and in the context of this paper,evidence of a reflexive modernity would occur through a sustained actionable responsebased on a heightened sense of risk from global environmental issues. With the natureof reflexivity highlighted and the underlying prerequisite for evidence of a reflexivemodernity established, the following discussion will critically explore the flaws inBeck’s analysis.Sustainable lifestyles: not such a reflexive processInitially, it is pertinent to establish that Beck envisages a highly educated and politicisedpublic capable of responding rationally to information about global issues of risk andhence acting accordingly. To a certain degree, some studies have supported this assertion,outlining an increase in environmental concern throughout the general population ofwestern societies (Mohai and Twight 1987, Darnton 2004, Darnton et al. 2006).However, the literature also indicates that Beck homogenises both the public’s abilitiesto negotiate risk information and subsequent environmental behaviour, ultimately reducingall changes in lifestyle to evidence of reflexivity (Mythen 2004, Borne 2009b). It has been
  • 3. Local Environment 97observed that far from an ecologically and politically schooled public, a wide range ofpublics exist who respond differently and often unpredictably to information received onrisks at both the global and local scales. (Macnaghten 2003, Spaargaren 2003). With this in mind, Beck’s analysis is seen as overly reductionist, falling within theboundaries of the information deficit model (Blake 1999). This model suggests thatincreased environmental education will result in a direct and positive correlation withpro-environmental behaviour (Magnus et al. 1997). Analysis of the processes that areinvolved in knowledge and action increasingly point to a substantial “value-action gap”(Blake 1999). Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) argue that the question of what actuallycreates pro-environmental behaviour is so complex that no single model can appropriatelyexpress the many variables involved. Overwhelmingly, models that have been developedto explain the complexities of human action with regard to environmental issues indicatethe complex set of variables that intervene between knowledge and action (Stern et al.1993, Darnton et al. 2006). Further, a number of commentators who elaborate on thetheoretical underpinnings of consumer choice are resolute in moving away from modelsthat focus on rational choice to more sophisticated understandings that outline the influ-ence of culture and multiple meanings in influencing choice and behaviour (Seyfang 2004,Jackson 2005). What the above discussion illustrates is that the assumption of reflexive behaviour basedon increased environmental action is fundamentally flawed. As already posited in thispaper, this is primarily a result of a lack of understanding of motivating factors behindenvironmental behaviour. This paper argues that evidence of environmental behaviourdoes not equate to reflexive behaviour and therefore logically is not evidence of a reflexivemodernity. This finding is in stark contrast to recent studies that have assessed the relation-ship between broader articulations of SD and reflexive modernity at the global politicallevel of the United Nations and further highlights the complex, dynamic and nonlinearnature of these issues (Borne 2009a). Increasingly, discussions on achieving sustainable lifestyles incorporate notions of sus-tainable consumption (Cohen and Murphy 2001, Defra 2003, Tanner et al. 2004, Seyfang2006). The case study presented in this paper aimed to encourage sustainable lifestyles byaltering consumption patterns within the household. Specifically, behavioural changes areaimed at reducing the energy consumption of households by educating participants on theadvantages gained from small changes in personal behaviour (EEA 2005). This is part of the wider effort to reduce CO2 emissions, mitigating the effects of globalwarming, which followed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The residential sector was targeted ascontaining particular potential in this area. From a governmental perspective, the residentialsector is particularly attractive as it involves only minimal reallocation of resources and aburden sharing form of governance (Brandon and Lewis 1999, McEvoy et al. 2001, Ekinset al. 2002). Empirically therefore, participation in an energy reduction scheme based on Beck’scriteria of environmental behaviour would seem to suggest a reflexive agenda. The partici-pants of the case study are actively changing their behaviour towards a moreenvironmental-friendly lifestyle within a constructed environment and within a limitedtime frame. However, the above discussion raises questions over whether such actioncan be appropriately used to represent reflexivity. For a realistic understanding of thisrelationship, motivations for participating in the project need to be investigated (Eden1993, Hobson 2003). Assessing in-depth understanding of motivations for joining thescheme from within the CRISP project exposes this relationship. The following willexplore the relevant methodological issues.
  • 4. 98 G. BorneMethodologyThe methodology focused on in-depth qualitative case study research. As has alreadybeen briefly discussed, the case study used was a project designed to enhance sustain-able lifestyles by reducing energy consumption in the home. The project was known asthe Carbon reduction Innovation Support Pilot (CRISP). The primary collaborators inthe scheme were Global Action Plan (GAP), Devon Energy Advice Centre andPlymouth City Council (PCC). GAP operated as the steering organisation1 and wasresponsible for the overall design and implementation of the project. GAP is an environ-mental charity that aims to encourage people to live more sustainable lifestyles bysaving resources and changing their personal outlook on environmental and consump-tion issues. The CRISP project consisted of two primary elements designed to reduce energy con-sumption in the home. The first was based on increasing environmental awareness througheducational material. GAP supplied participants of the scheme with information packs onhow to conserve energy within the home as well as information on what grants may beavailable form local and national government. The second involved support from trainedGAP staff to assess the energy-saving potential within a home and suggest practicaladvice on how greater energy efficiency could be achieved. Energy use within the homewas monitored during the life cycle of the project. The ward of Stoke within Plymouth was identified as a target area for the project.Members of GAP were initially responsible for canvassing the area where householdswere invited to participate in the scheme. In collaboration with GAP, the author despatcheda quantitative questionnaire survey as part of the information packs on energy consumption.Respondents were asked to indicate in their questionnaires whether they would be willing totake part in in-depth qualitative interviews. In total, 30 participants volunteered to partici-pate in the interview process. Of these 30, 14 interviewees were selected who represented adiverse group at the demographic and occupational scale. A total of 14 households, oneoffice and one allotment were visited. On three occasions multiple interviewees werepresent in a single household, so the total number of interviewees rose to 20. Table 1 out-lines the basic characteristics of the interviewees. Names have been altered to protect theanonymity of the interviewees. It is acknowledged in this paper that variations in gender (Mooney et al. 2000), age(Flynn et al. 1994) and occupation (Norton and Leaman 2004) all influence opinion of sus-tainability and environmental issues and individuals ability to act on these issues. However,there will be no attempt to expand on these issues here. Within the tradition of qualitativeresearch, a statistically representative sample is neither required nor desirable (Brannen1992, Hammersley 1992a, 1992b). What is germane is to reveal the relationship betweenenvironmental behaviour and reflexivity in an in-depth fashion. Interviews were conducted during a 6-week period between July and August 2003. Thisperiod offered a unique opportunity to assess the reflexive nature of sustainable behaviour.This was due to the widely reported heat wave across Europe. Interviews were recorded andtranscribed, and a subsequent analysis of the transcripts was made using the principles ofgrounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967, Corbin and Strauss 1990, Hammersley andAtkinson 2003). The fundamental aim of grounded theory is to produce theory from thedata. With grounded theory, the analysis process is ongoing, with each stage influencingthe next. The themes that were developed in this paper were done so in an evolvingmanner, so as more of the interview material was analysed so themes were adapted toreflect the entire corpus of interview material.
  • 5. Local Environment 99Table 1. Interviewee data.Name Sex Age Occupation LocationRobert M 85 Construction retired Single allotmentJames M 64 Dockyard worker/retired Family homeBrian M 52 Roofer Family homeAlex M 48 Social worker Family homeMartin M 44 Architect Family homeSimon M 41 Builder Family homeLloyd M 33 Labourer Single homeGraham M 33 Insurance Single homeMark M 29 Salesman Single homeRick M 26 Student Single homeFrancis M 16 Student Family homeSophie F 79 Retired/nurse Home/singleStephanie F 59 Housewife Family homeCarman F 58 Musician Family homeHelen F 52 Housewife Family homeAngela F 47 Nanny Single homeJulia F 44 Public relations Family homeJanine F 37 Housewife Family homeKorean F 32 Mother/housewife Family homeRuth F 24 Catering Single homeResultsThis section presents the results of the interviews and is based around four main themes thatwere drawn from the data using the aforementioned principles of grounded theory. Thesethemes progressively build a picture of the relationship between the interviewees’ under-standing of environmental issues and risk more generally and evidence for the emergenceof a reflexive modernity. As the themes are introduced, different levels of sustainable life-style discourse and the relationship this has to the participants is exposed. What willbecome evident is an increasingly complex relationship between knowledge, behaviourand reflexive modernity. The discussion opens by exploring the levels of contradictionwhich was prevalent in the interview material and provided initial insights into the intervie-wee’s ability to act in a reflexive fashion. As the results are discussed, relevant insights froma broad literature base will be introduced that will contribute towards an understanding ofthe relationship between discourse and theoretical discussion.Lifestyle gymnasticsContradictionIt is broadly accepted that in a late modern world individuals are presented with numerouslevels of choice derived from frequently contested perspectives (Beck 1999, Irwin 2001,Macnaghten 2003). Despite overt participation in a sustainable lifestyle scheme, the inter-views displayed clear and consistent levels of contradiction in attitudes towards theenvironment. These multiplicities manifest themselves in many different ways. Severalinterviewees agreed that their participation in the scheme was an important step for achiev-ing a sustainable lifestyle. Korean was representative of opinion on this topic: KOREAN : Well obviously different people are going to have different attitudes and opinions about being part of a scheme like this, different reasons for joining. You can’t argue that
  • 6. 100 G. Borne doing it, being a part of something like this, gives us some environmental credits. What I mean is, I’m no saint but at the very least I can say that, hey, you know, I’m part of an environmental scheme, I’m reducing my energy consumption, I’m helping save the planet and I’m saving a bit of money and yes, that’s SD working for people with different outlooks on life.The idea of “environmental credit” is an interesting manifestation of the way that the inter-viewees seemed to accept the contradiction that was inherent in their lifestyle choices.There was a sense that no matter how un-environmentally each interviewee behaved intheir everyday routines, joining the energy reduction scheme was a way of offsettingthese negative lifestyle choices. Janine discusses her transport habits: JANINE: Yes I do tend to drive it everywhere and it is a bit of a guzzler but it’s my legs, I’m just so used to using a car, that and the time factor I can be pretty much anywhere in a matter of minutes, I’m a bit of a hypocrite really, I suppose I feel guilty about it sometimes, but to be honest not very often.Janine indicates her feelings of guilt over her action as a frequent driver. She continues byexplaining that being part of the energy reduction scheme to some degree alleviates thisguilt. Brian agrees: BRIAN: I drive all over the place, it’s an unfortunate necessity of the job. I can do anything up to 600 miles in a week, I don’t pay for my own petrol, it all goes on account, but it does have an effect on the environment. Maybe joining the Global Action Plan project is my way of trying to sort of counterbalance this, my way of acting in a sustainable manner maybe.Many interviewees presented contradictory behaviour patterns which offered inconsisten-cies in the data. These focused predominately on transportation and the deep dependenceon cars that many of the interviewees felt. Inconsistencies, however, did not only occurbetween the interviewees but also within single interviews. Interviewees were quick toembark upon a tale of the moral importance of incorporating the principles of SD practiceinto their lifestyles, even if many were unsure as to what form this would take. As the inter-view conversation evolved, this situation would often alter. Helen is characteristic of thisobservation. Helen’s understanding of SD was more complex than some of the other inter-viewees and she seemed to genuinely follow environmental debates. Initially, Helen’srhetoric was of a concerned and diligent environmentalist. After some time however, thediscussion moves to foreign travel where she reports of her regular trips to visit her daughterabroad: HELEN: I actually go three or four times a year, I absolutely love it, I couldn’t live there you understand but every time I go it’s like having a holiday, I don’t want to miss my grandchildren growing up. RESEARCHER : Do you go anywhere else? HELEN : Oh yes twice a year, umm, Joan (best friend) and I go to Soolom in France, it’s very close to the Pyrenees. It’s quiet and Joan’s family have a small cottage, just us two old gals together. RESEARCHER : Do you fly? HELEN : Yes, and I know what you’re going to say now, air travel is bad for the environment. But it’s a necessary evil for me.It emerges that Helen is in fact a frequent flyer, regularly travelling abroad. Brian and Helenare representative of the interviewees who displayed high levels of contradiction. This formof paradoxical behaviour with regard to environmental issues is being increasingly
  • 7. Local Environment 101documented (Guber 1996). In particular, Spaargaren (2003) comments on a similar schemerun by the Dutch equivalent of GAP: “In Dutch environmental discourse this mechanism isrecognised and has come to be represented by the image of the Harley Davidson motorcy-clist who also proves to be an active member of a so-called eco team or GAP team” (p. 689).Participants were selective in their application of life practices and display the paradox ofnegotiating locality in a global society (Bauman 1998, Borne 2009a, 2009b). Spaargaren(2003) continues to argue that even when individuals claim that some environmental cri-teria are central to the way that they conduct their lives; individuals will “. . . act againstthese rules at certain times and under some circumstances at some sectors or segments oftheir lifestyle.” (p. 689). This observation is supported by findings presented in this paper. There was evidence of a multiplicity of action that is at once contradictory and reinfor-cing. Spaargaren believes that the solution from a policy perspective is the development ofenvironmental heuristics which will serve to simplify the complexities of social activity.These heuristics are designed to guide individual action in every day life towards a moresustainable lifestyle. Spaargaren further indicates that these heuristics will achieve sustain-able lifestyles by connecting technical environmental rhetoric to broader socially relevantissues, ultimately fitting “. . . the practical logic of daily life” (2003, p. 690). Although there is utility in such a simplification for understanding the complexityinvolved, the following discussion would suggest that oversimplification may not be aneffective tool for engendering sustainable lifestyles and producing reflexive behaviour.Other commentators recognise that the relationship between environmental knowledgeand action are far from straightforward (Macnaghten and Urry 1998). To date, the contra-dictory nature of people’s behavioural patterns have been highlighted in a bid to emphasisethe complexity of interview discourse. Further analysis of the interview material suggestedthat contradiction in behaviour patterns resulted from the complex interaction betweenglobal and local knowledge formation and individual relationships with different kindsof risk. The following themes highlight these issues.UncertaintyIt was strongly evident within the interviews that perceptions of SD, risk and what consti-tuted sustainable lifestyles were developed through considerable levels of uncertainty. Thisresonates strongly with a substantial body of literature that recognises the ambiguous natureof SD and sustainability and is a constant theme throughout the interviews (Williams andMillington 2004). Pellizzoni (2003) suggests that discussions surrounding SD and associ-ated issues creates a radical uncertainty. Contradictory and ambiguous information pro-duced a situation where interviewees were unsure as to what was actually happening.Robert discusses the unseasonably hot weather: ROBERT: Well every time there’s a little bit of a hot spell everyone gets excited. It’s difficult to get excited about a bit of hot weather. I can remember lots of years when there were really hot spells or cold days. Doesn’t mean that everyone ran around saying that the world was going to end. It’s just one of those things.Unlike many of the other interviewees, Robert’s uncertainty about claims of the causes ofglobal warming is based on personal experience; his age (87) enables him to examine therisk of global warming from what he perceives as a more informed experiential position.Robert extends his uncertainty to assert a lack of faith in the scientific process, preferringinstead to trust his own judgement. This form of knowledge formation is central to the
  • 8. 102 G. Bornechanging nature of knowledge creation in late modernity and resonates with similarresearch, particularly within studies centred on the sociology of scientific knowledge(Wynne 2003). Along similar lines, Julia is also not certain: JULIA : Who’s to say that humans are having an impact there is some who say that it’s just nature taking its course doing the rounds if you like. I’m not saying that I believe that but then, I’m not really saying that I don’t, you know what I mean. I keep reading differing reports in the news- paper, then you don’t hear anything for ages. RESEARCHER : Why did you join the scheme if you’re not sure? JULIA : Well because I’m not sure, because I suppose even if there is even a small chance that we are the problem, Umm, what’s the saying? It’s better be part of the solution than the problem, or something.Julia is unsure that her activities are having any sort of effect on degrading the environment,it is acknowledged that repeated “scientific” representations of global phenomena are oftencontradictory and incomplete (Wynne 2001, 2002, Lidskog 2008, Renn 2008). Juliaacknowledges that she is uncertain as to the causes of global warming; yet at a personallevel, she seems to be employing a form of precautionary principle (Durbak and Strauss2005). Stephanie makes the direct connection between uncertainty and action: STEPHANIE : If you don’t know for sure what’s the cause of things you’re not so inclined to actually do anything about it are you? If everyone’s arguing over whether we are causing global warming or we’re not then you just think well who cares? It’s the same with anything, it only takes a little bit of doubt and that’s all the excuse most people need. So why bother even thinking about something as far off as SD it just doesn’t make sense, I think that’s the attitude.Although there is some recognition that these events are occurring, a real sense of urgencyto alter behaviour does not manifest. Indications of the reasoning behind this lack ofurgency further developed under the general theme of prioritisation. The prioritisation ofdifferent forms of risk fundamentally influenced the participant’s ability to conduct theirlives in a sustainable fashion. The following discussion will explore the third maintheme that emerged from the interview data, prioritisation.PrioritisationAt the local level, risks that affect the lives of participants of the CRISP project may be saidto inhibit their ability to act in a sustainable, and hence a reflexive fashion. One such processof inhibition was the prioritisation by participants of various risks, with more immediaterisks taking precedence over those that attach themselves to global issues: JULIA : I am concerned, that’s why I’m part of this project to reduce energy and do my bit to reduce energy emissions, green house gas emissions. But on a daily basis things like these are quite low on my list of priorities, well of course they are really, family and money, yeah the big M, but that’s life.Julia’s sentiments resonate with the corpus of material that consign global risk to lowerlevels of life priority, with interviewees variously accepting that financial issues andfamily ties are more salient than abstracted global environmental risk. In certain instances, the process of prioritisation negotiated among the intervieweesthemselves. On three occasions, what began as a one-to-one interview situation transformedinto a group discussion with more than one member of the household joining the interview
  • 9. Local Environment 103process. The following represents one such exchange and emphasises the negotiated natureof the prioritisation theme. Martin is asked whether he feels at risk from issues of globalwarming and whether this affects his understanding of SD: MARTIN : Yeah it’s definitely something I think about, I think worried for me personally. Well I really should be worried but I’m not, that’s too strong a word really, it’s kind of like in the distance, it’s gonna happen yeah, uhh sorry it is happening, and it will get worse but it’s not happening now. JULIA : Well it is happening. MARTIN : Well, OK, it is happening, so the waters rise and the sea’s getting bigger, yeah so the waters are rising and you know it’s happening isn’t it? It affects us more because of our children, but still I don’t worry too much because it’s going to take so long for it to happen. I think that that’s the main thing, you shouldn’t do, but at the end of the day it’s priorities. JULIA : That’s right, for the most part we have more important things to worry about. I mean you can’t go round worrying about these things all the time. MARTIN : No (laugh), you wouldn’t be able to function if you worried about everything.Martin and Julia continue to discuss this situation and they express concerns about the waysthat the concept of SD is being attached to the complex issues that surround global warming.They do, however, recognise that there is a connection and there is an agreement that globalwarming as a form of risk is a topic of relevance to them, even though it is relatively low ontheir list of priorities. This level of priority varied considerably among the interviewees. Thisvariation, however, was predominantly in the lower levels of individuals’ range. The finalcomment in the above extract leads to an examination of the next theme that emergedfrom the interviewees which can be seen as an extension of the prioritisation rhetoric.RepressionThe prioritisation of personal risk is evident with risk from the more immediate threatssuperseding global risk. This was not an unexpected finding of the research; there is agrowing body of literature that debates the intensity of global flows of images on thelocal behaviours and knowledge on a wide range of issues that encompass all facets ofsociety (Castells 1996). However, the discourse that emerged from within the interviewgroup displayed a more acute reaction to global flows of information than simply prioritis-ing particular risks when discussing behavioural change and the achievement of sustainablelifestyles. Simon was adamant that: SIMON : Quite frankly I don’t think about it for a number of reasons but mainly; it’s to keep going I can’t spend my life thinking about the horrible things that might be happening in the world. When I see things like that, especially all the news on the Iraqi action at the moment I just think that I’m glad I’m not there.Repression occurred from a great many issues that existed outside the life world of the par-ticipants; however, with relation to the internalisation of global risk, and how this was nego-tiated from the global sphere to the local domain, it was global warming that predominated.The way that global warming was articulated was complex but what emerged in many caseswas a need to repress the images of this global risk. Interviewees initially purported to theimportance of this issue and the relationship this would have to the development of sustain-able lifestyles: RUTH : I’m biased being part of the scheme but it seems that SD and global warming should be put together. It will make people more aware, make everyone conscious on a daily basis of what
  • 10. 104 G. Borne effect they’re having on the environment and everything that’s happening around them, maybe people will stop being so selfish.Ruth believes that using global warming to transport the message of sustainability is essen-tial for the enlightenment of modern societies and the creation of sustainable lifestyles andadvancement of the reflexive agenda. There were numerous discursive assertions of thisnature. However, many of these remarks were located in the earlier segments of the inter-views, as interviews continued, the tone of dialogue often altered. Further conversationswith Ruth typify this finding: RUTH : Maybe when I see that there are some really nasty weather conditions or something on telly, I may fleetingly think about global warming but it’s not really something that I’m particu- larly bothered about. There’s so much more to worry about today. Lots of it doesn’t even bear thinking about really it’s all a bit much.What is being emphasised here is the need for Ruth to make a conscious decision not tothink about the wider issues that are involved. This was not an isolated occurrence andwas a theme that emerged repeatedly from the data: CARMAN : Well global warming is an issue and it does make you think a lot more about the issues that are happening around the world, the way we’re all having an impact. But at the same time, it’s in the back of your mind umm, well I try not to think about it. I would normally change channels if I see anything about it on telly.This is very much a “virtual denial” that is taking place; it is the media images that are beingshut out. This underpins local individual formation of knowledge and also highlights therole that mass media representation plays as a conduit in the dissemination of themessage of risk and the need to create sustainable lifestyles (Smith 2001). It is a virtualdenial because it is a virtual risk. Drawing on the above discussion, the following introducesevidence of virtual repression amongst the interviewees. Ecological images and symbols do not at all have intrinsic certainty: they are culturally perceived, constructed and mediated, they are part of the social fabric of knowledge, with all its contradictions and conflicts (Beck 2000, p. 24).What effect does such an informational maelstrom have on the individuals who areembedded in these informational networks, and how does this affect their ability to actin a sustainable fashion? It is pertinent in the answering of this question to observe thatin late modernity mediated information flows are fundamental in transmitting politicalmessages and establishing knowledge “frameworks” (Anderson 1997, Baudrillard 1998,Allan et al. 2000, Van Loon 2000). The term “real virtuality” has been introduced intothe literature in order to emphasise these processes (Beck 1999, Castells 2000). Castellsmaintains that real virtuality is a “. . . system in which reality itself is fully immersed in avirtual image setting in the world of make believe, in which symbols are not just metaphors,but comprise of actual experience” (2000, p. 318). Castells argues that the virtual imagemoves beyond the symbolic, to produce an active pathway between the image and theobserver. A growing body of research increasingly indicates that the media is now integral to thedevelopment of environmental and sustainability messages (Anderson 1997, Hansen 1993,Cottle 1998). Interviewees revealed that television was their primary source of information,
  • 11. Local Environment 105not just on environmental issues but all aspects of life that were beyond their sensory realm.There were strong suggestions that this was simply a case of “convenience”: GRAHAM : It’s a matter of having the time isn’t it, looking for information on these topics so we know what’s going on in the world. I’m not a big reader, I only really glance at the paper at work, well, The Sun, if you can call that a paper. I used to read a lot more but over the years I’ve, well, I suppose I’ve just got out of the habit.On a broad spectrum of issues, the effects of news images on different sectors of societytends to be diverse and ambiguous with little overall consensus (Anderson 2000, Cottle1998). Moreover, there was evidence of what Dahlgren (1992) describes as the pluralsense-making of media images. With these observations in mind, the data point to a veryparticular reaction to global images that has important ramifications for assessing the emer-gence of a reflexive modernity based on Beck’s prerequisites of environmental behaviour.Furthermore, the following observations have significant implications for the developmentof the SD agenda and the underlying assumptions of what mechanisms need to be utilised toproduce sustainable lifestyles. This paper suggests that a saturation point has been reachedwhere interviewees have simply had enough of the global messages and external imagesthat permeated their local spaces. Angela highlights this point: ANGELA : Well it’s embarrassing, yes it is, but that doesn’t mean I just sit in front of the telly all day. I’m busy usually. You only need to watch the news once don’t you? It’s all the same, repetitive, but it is pretty much my window on the world if you like.With some embarrassment, Angela considered television to present her with reasonablyaccurate images of events that were happening. Moreover, there is a level of apathy thatexists in the interviewees’ responses. Information on global issues is not actively sought,more it is passively received. Brian also maintained that television is the most effectiveway of gaining information about the world: BRIAN : After a day at work I really don’t want to think about anything, I just want to switch off and veg out. I’ll tell you what, sometimes I actually resent the news and don’t put it on; my brain just can’t cope, umm, who doesn’t find it depressing, images of death and destruction? I suppose that must sound a little strange to you, joining an environmental scheme but not really, thinking about the bigger issues, I suppose its guilt management without the pain.This statement contains a number of pertinent and regularly occurring issues. There is a“resentment” of the news, those images which permeate the local space, upsetting the con-tinuum of life at the local level. Wilkinson (2001) draws attention to the “impersonal impacthypothesis”, which identifies a separation of media issues as those for society from thosethat affect individual lives (Tyler and Cook 1984). As an example, Wilkinson (2001) high-lights the work by Dickens (1992), who found that the public were aware of globalwarming, but they were, however, far more uncertain when it comes to recognising theways in which this posed threats to them personally. Building on these observations, the evidence presented here suggests an extended scen-ario to the impersonal impact hypothesis. Instead of individuals desensitising themselves tothe images of global phenomena, there is more a situation in which participants quite simplyhave had enough of the intense barrage of images that invade the comfort of their livingrooms on a daily basis. This produced a situation in which anxieties are not alleviated;instead, anxieties are raised to the point where these images are quite simply blocked out
  • 12. 106 G. Borneand repressed. Ultimately, interviewees were rejecting the global discourses of environ-mental determinism associated with statements of annihilation and catastrophe (Hulme2008). This presents serious obstacles for those agencies, at the global and local scalesthat use the risk of the global phenomena, such as global warming to motivate sustainablelifestyles and embed a culture of SD. What is clear from the discussion so far is that indi-viduals separate those things that do not impinge directly on their lives and those thingswhich are abstract from their life world (Coleman 1993). Based on the above observations,it is reasonable to suggest that, on the criteria of environment behaviour, processes of reflex-ive behaviour in the face of global risk are not occurring. Furthermore, it is argued here thatwhat is in fact evident are processes of counter-reflexivity.Reinforcing a counter-reflexivityAs this paper indicates, individuals are actively choosing not to reflect on the images ofglobal risk but instead are focusing on their own life world and the risks that exist withinthem. Although cursory observation may indicate that simply participating in the CRISPproject is evidence of the development of a reflexive modernity in its own right, insightsprovided here suggest further intricate dynamics. It is argued that the evidence presented within the confines of this paper, suggesting theemergence of counter-reflexive processes, is reinforced through the context of empiricalevidence. This reinforcement exists on two levels. First, it was anticipated that evidencefrom within the CRISP project would indicate a reflexive modernity based on the criteriaof environmental behaviour. It is reasonable to initially observe that the act of participatingin a project that is designed to enhance sustainable lifestyles is evidence of reflexive beha-viour. Participation in the energy reduction scheme actually reinforces the claim that partici-pants are engaged in a process of counter-reflexivity, an assertion based around an in-depthassessment of the “motivations” for joining such a scheme. Qualitative investigationssuggest issues, such as financial concerns, were deemed more important reasons forjoining the scheme. This in turn does not suggest an altruistic questioning of the directionof modernity, but instead indicates actions motivated by a desire for personal gain, hencereinforcing the claim of the emergence of a counter-reflexive culture. As outlined earlierin this paper, the notion of reflexivity is composed of both reflective and reflexive elementsthat together form a Beckian concept of reflexivity. Based on this definition, while partici-pants do allude at times to behave in a reflective manner this reflection does not translateinto reflexive behaviour. The second reinforcement of the conclusion that counter-reflexive processes are ineffect is the time scale of the empirical research itself. The period was a time when inter-viewees themselves were not only being exposed to increased media imagery of theeffects of global warming but moreover, through increased temperatures from the 2003heat wave, it could be argued that the global imagery had become more salient to theirevery day lives. This, however, did not produce rhetoric from the interviewee that wouldsuggest that reflexive processes were occurring. Similar findings are beginning to emergein relation to direct exposure to risk and ensuing behaviour. This is particularly the casewith reference to global warming (Whitmarsh 2008). At the policy level, the findings presented in this paper draw into question the commit-ment of individuals to behave in a sustainable manner. What is particularly clear is that amodel of increased education of global environmental risks does not equate to environ-mental action and sustainable lifestyles. Ultimately, the lack of reflexive motivation forjoining the CRISP project transfers the onus of responsibility for achieving sustainable
  • 13. Local Environment 107lifestyles to government bodies at both the global and the local level. As the case study hasemphasised, the financial imperative would suggest the need for increased fiscal regulationand a strengthening of legislative tools.ConclusionThis paper has progressively built a case for the emergence of counter-reflexive processes.Initially, the nature of reflexivity was discussed which was followed by exploring the cri-teria for assertions by Beck of the emergence of a reflexive modernity. The complexissue of environmental knowledge and behaviour was drawn into focus where Beck’sassertions were critically explored. The methodology highlighted the case study used inthis paper and the associated methods and analytical procedures. Using the themes ofcontradiction, uncertainty, prioritisation and repression, the results progressively displayedevidence of counter-reflexive processes. The final discussion has drawn the threads of thispaper together to highlight the important ramifications for theory and policy of a counter-reflexivity. In sum, this paper has presented some initial insights into the nature of reflex-ivity and reflexive modernity at the local and individual scale. It is not suggested that this isby any means a comprehensive analysis of the complex issues involved. It does, however,offer initial insights into the nature of individual environmental behaviour and opens up anavenue for future research in this area when discusses these issues in the context ofreflexivity. Further, investigations need to be conducted into the possibility of the emergence ofcounter-reflexive processes. In particular, there is a need to further understand the inter-action of local governance structures and individual behaviour in light of the increased visi-bility of global risk.Note1. For further information on the work of GAP, see Hobson (2003).ReferencesAllan, S., Adam, B., and Carter, C., eds., 2000. Environmental risks and the media. London: Routledge.Anderson, A., 1997. Media, culture, and the environment. London: UCL Press.Baudrillard, J., 1998. The consumer society: myths and structures. London: Sage.Bauman, Z., 1998. Globalisation: the human consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press.Beck, U., 1999. World risk society. Malden, MA: Polity Press.Beck, U., 2000. What is globalisation? Cambridge: Polity Press.Blake, J., 1999. Overcoming the value-action gap in environmental policy: tensions between national policy and local experience. Local Environment, 4 (3), 299–310.Borne, G., 2009a. Sustainable development: the reflexive governance of risk. Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press.Borne, G., 2009b. Local environmental governance in a global context. In: Burns, ed. The handbook of global environmental issues. Singapore: World Scientific.Brandon, G. and Lewis, A., 1999. Reducing household energy consumption: a qualitative and quan- titative field study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19 (11), 75–85.Brannen, J., ed., 1992. Mixing methods: qualitative and quantitative research. Aldershot: Avebury.Castells, M., 1996. The rise of the network society. The information age, economy, society and culture. Oxford: Blackwell.Castells, M., 2000. End of millennium. Oxford: Blackwell.
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