Thesis Spotlights – Negotiating Conventions: Cleanliness, Sustainability and Everyday Life
Tullia Jack, PhD, Sweden
Email: Tullia.jack [at] gmail.com, Tullia.jack [at] soc.lu.se
Institution: Lund University, Department of Sociology
Time: September 2013 – December 2018, date of defence: 19th of December 2018
Supervisors: Dr. Lisa Eklund and Prof. Christofer Edling
Funding: Scholarship for PhD studies from the Department of Sociology, Lund University
Cleanliness has seen a rapid increase in both developed and developing countries, along with a parallel rise in not only water and energy but also cleaning products consumed. Water and energy supply as well as dealing with waste are environmentally critical in securing a sustainable future. This dissertation aims to contribute to sustainability by providing new insights around how conventions change or stay stable. This knowledge will be useful in intervening and shifting conventions in more sustainable directions.
To get at cleanliness conventions this dissertation uses three main data sets. First, existing data sets such as time-use surveys as well as domestic water and energy consumption; second media representations of cleanliness in five popular Swedish magazines over the past thirty years; and finally focus-group discussions with fifty-seven participants about how media representations relate to everyday life. This data provides a multi-level exploration of cleanliness developments from the aggregated to the specific. By plotting the way that cleanliness has developed in Sweden over the past thirty years, as well as the media discourses and the way that people relate to these discourses, this thesis aims to gain a clearer understanding of how conventions come into existence, circulate and become accepted, and how to intervene and shift conventions in more sustainable directions.
Cleanliness is a mundane issue, yet stills play a leading role in everyday life, quietly using water, energy and people’s time and has been increasing in Sweden since at least the 1980s. I argue that the media is part of this, not as a casual factor, but rather as a reflector and amplifier of various cleanliness practices. Media represent cleanliness, or hyper-cleanliness, as ideal while deviations are presented as shameful or even medical problems. These potentially oppressive representations are, however, not naïvely accepted in everyday life, but rather calibrated, as it is common knowledge that magazines show over-hyped perfection, and also criticised and resisted. Cleanliness is context driven and relational, so this dissertation argues that unsustainable increases in cleanliness that have led to intensifying water and energy consumption could be reversed by changing cleanliness conventions.
Investigating cleanliness conventions is important in understanding how resource consuming practices are shared and reproduced. This dissertation provides new insights into ways that media plays into how cleanliness conventions, and ways that people relate to – and resist – representations in everyday life are useful considerations when designing interventions into current collective conventions to steer everyday life in more sustainable directions.