Date of Degree


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Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Michelle Fine

Sharon Zukin

Joseph Glick

Laura Portwood-Stacer

Subject Categories



This dissertation examines the social aspects of voluntarily reduced consumption activity using the principles of cultural historical activity theory. Voluntarily buying less is viewed as ongoing interactive social process that is initiated and sustained as individuals engage with their surroundings. Data was collected from 320 online survey respondents living in the New York City Metro area, followed by a purposeful sampling of 24 participants for in-person, follow up interviews. Interviews revealed the social contextual influences on initiating voluntarily reduced consumption activity. For example, family experiences, personal life changes, and historical events played a role in individuals' choice to voluntarily buy less.

Individuals who choose to voluntarily reduce how much they buy experience both social supports and barriers to their activity. Many interview respondents treated voluntarily buying less as a sensitive topic of conversation, not to be openly discussed with others who did not hold the same opinions or values. Those participants adopted techniques to determine who the topic could be broached with while avoiding conflict with those who it may cause problems. Having social support and resources made a noteworthy difference in the viability of adopting many practices, such as reducing the amount of gifts exchanged at the holidays or acquiring used goods instead of buying something new.

Social pressure to consume or support for buying less changed based upon specific situations, environments, and individuals with whom the respondent was interacting. Significant others were an important source of support for voluntarily buying less through actions such as sharing responsibility, reinforcing practices or providing skills. Having children presented particular challenges to buying less, as well as an opportunity to pass along one's values and practices. Family and friends were often a resource for skills and information for practices including repairing goods or doing things for oneself. However, friendships that were not supportive were a particular sore spot for some interview participants. Making compromises, not talking about their values and practices, or reducing the amount of time they spent with their friends was a source of strain, anger, and feelings of social isolation. While a few developed new friendships that supported their buying less values, others enacted conflict-reducing practices in order to negotiate social interactions with their friends. Interview participants' choice of employment influenced how much pressure they felt to maintain social norms and communicate status through purchasing of goods such as clothing and technology. The impact of living in New York City was very noticeable when interview participants talked about the support they received from their participation in local social groups, organizations, and communities.

Some interview respondents felt their voluntarily reduced consumption activity may influence others. However, not all participants were motivated by the thought that their voluntarily reduced consumption activity was making an impact on a larger scale. A few even feel that what they are doing may have a negative impact on others.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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