Consumption, Environmental Sustainability and Human Geography in Australia: a Missing Research Agenda?

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‘Consumption’ is a central concept in the global environmental sustainability agenda. However, one important argument from Agenda 21 — that all social actors must now practise ‘sustainable consumption’— has been publicly and politically marginalised in high-income countries such as Australia. Geographers potentially have a role in bringing consumption back onto the agenda by constructing a critical geography of consumption. Such research can help understand how the contextual use of natural resources is perceived and practised, and how consumption helps to shape contemporary social relations. This body of knowledge is vital for building sustainable development into everyday lives. Yet a focus on urban consumption perceptions and practices appears somewhat lacking in Australian geography. Ways forward can be drawn from international geography, such as in the United Kingdom where a substantial body of work has drawn a complex picture of contemporary consumption and environmental understanding. It has also challenged prevailing ‘ecological modernisation’ policy approaches, which ignore consumption's cultural facets. In sum, considering consumption in Australia can offer insights into cultural practices expressed through consumption; can challenge and add to European geographical literatures, and can also contribute to sustainability debates by offering alternatives to currently ineffective policy discourses.

Keywords: human geography; lifestyles; sustainable consumption; urban

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Australian National University, Email:

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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