Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Changing Your Lifestyle to Change the World. Who Is Willing to Take Up the Challenge of the Globalisation of Risks?

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Changing Your Lifestyle to Change the World. Who Is Willing to Take Up the Challenge of the Globalisation of Risks?

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Sustainability, more equity and social justice are the new watchwords that entrust consumers with the responsibility to influence economic macro*

processes, contributing to the bottom-up activation of virtuous behaviour, which has taken on a clearly 'political' value over the last few decades (Bruni, Pelligra, 2001; Becchetti, 2005; Micheletti, 2003; Tosi, 2006; Secondulfo, 2001). 'The consumer has been invested with political duties on an increasing basis since the early 90s and above all since the turn of the millennium after events in Seattle at the World Trade Organisation meeting in 1999. In this way, various forms of alternative consumption have been defined as "boycotting", a "positive" form which is coupled with "negative" initiatives of boycotting large multinationals, in addition to "conversational" activities of protest, condemnation and pressure, above all through the Internet: it is essentially all seen as a set of new forms of political participation included in the umbrella term "political consumerism"' (Leonini, Sassatelli, 2008: 9). While consumers initially focused on the protection of consumption, with increased awareness of purchased items through information campaigns about 'who produces what and how', the profile of the critical consumer has changed in recent years. 'The globalisation of the economy and communications, and the consolidation of a post-colonial culture have not only made the world more interconnected, but also highlighted the ecological implications of the level of consumption maintained by wealthy countries and underlined the unnatural nature of the differences in consumption levels between different areas of the world' (Leonini, Sassatelli, 2008: 11). Therefore, consumers have acquired awareness of both the economic implications and ethical repercussions (in terms of social justice and environmental sustainability) of their purchases. Furthermore, globalisation processes (in terms of the intensification of trade flows of goods, people, money, ideas and information at an intercontinental level) (Held et. al., 1999) have led to the emergence of the dual awareness that risks are global and that any counteraction must also be global. This new awareness has generated what U. Beck defines as cosmopolitan democracy (a new way of constructing the democratic consensus) and cosmopolitan social movements, which translate local issues into global concerns and vice versa (Beck, 2000, 2003). In the common sense perception, the world becomes smaller and closer (we are united by the same problems and as a result of the intensification of communications, we are more aware of the underlying interconnections between the global and the local). At the same time, the context of daily life (the local) becomes larger, in the sense that it is also shared by unknown subjects that we might never even have the chance to meet. We have been transformed into citizens of the world by environmental pollution, global warming, increasing poverty in developing countries, the forced migration of whole populations, junk food and economic oligarchies that act beyond and in spite of the limits and constraints of politics (Sassen, 2015). Although we live in local and localised environments, we are not certain of or reassured by the promises of greater economic development made in the name of neoliberalism and the growth of consumption. Moreover, there is emerging awareness that the answer to the effects of current economic trends on our daily living environment (in terms of worsening general living conditions) cannot be local, but must have a broader - global - scope (Beck, 1999).

This article aims to analyse the presence of a new form of consumer sensitivity among a cross-section of the Italian population. Rather than examining concrete behaviour, the focus is on the willingness to 'renounce something' - in terms of lifestyle and consumer goods - for a general interest. It cannot be assumed that all consumers have the same level of sensitivity to the issues raised by environmental and fair trade campaigns or the degrowth movement; discriminating variables that can influence the consumer's relative willingness to change certain behavioural aspects include generalised trust, political culture of origin, local traditions and perception of the degree of influence that individual action can have on the political context, along with the more traditional profile variables (gender, age, level of education, area of residence and social class). …

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