"Sustainability" and the Consumer: The Ideological and Discursive Limits of Environmentalism
Haverford College. Department of Sociology
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This paper explores what is meant when one says a food is sustainably produced. Conversations with the main food buyer in the households of college professors on the Main Line of Philadelphia are analyzed through the frameworks of ideology and discourse as laid out by Althusser and Foucault, respectively. Such an analysis of the understandings made by a well educated and (relatively) financially well off group of their grocery buying decisions reveals a complicated conception of what it means to be sustainable. Sustainability, though acknowledged as a structural concern, is melded through the ideological apparatuses at play in the grocery store and wider discourses of consumption, to ultimately be an attribute of individual habits. "Sustainability," as a concept, is thus curtailed to an amorphous and apolitical meaning. Ideological subject formation and the discourse that comes concomitantly with it ensure that "sustainability" can only ever refer to the actions of an individual or group of individuals within current political and economic systems, rather than a potential bridge to the type of social change necessary to combat climate change according to climate experts.