15.2 Translating Consumption: the process of constructing demand for products in a consumer electronics firm

Justin Spinney , Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford, England
The onus for altering our lifestyles and reducing consumption is often seen as the responsibility of the individual consumer. Many retailers for example constantly suggest that they are simply responding to consumer demand implying that it is the consumer who is responsible for over-consumption. However as numerous commentaries attest, the phenomenon known as consumer demand is not shaped in a vacuum, rather it is shown to be constructed by numerous actors in the value chain. This study takes as its starting point the notion that demand co-evolves through the actions of both producers and consumers and that only through understanding the relationship between different actors in the value chain can we move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption. Through qualitative interviews with employees and customers of a hi-tech firm this project explores how on the one hand business constructs demand by ‘enrolling’ consumers and the environment into its product design and marketing, and on the other how consumers appropriate products into their everyday lives and how the different socio-technical worlds within which they are situated. As well as outlining a framework for analysis based upon Actor Network Theory this paper reports on preliminary findings from empirical fieldwork conducted so far.