Discourse analysis based on the archaeological method developed by Michel Foucault shows that International governmental organisations (UNEP and EEA) and national governments (Norway) are relying on two discursive systems in order to establish sets of policies towards sustainable consumption and production (SCP).
The first system has the rational choice model at its core. Consumption is viewed as a matter of personal choice exercised by autonomous consumers making relatively unconstrained lifestyle choices based on rational deliberations. Technology, information campaigns, regulatory framework and instruments of market are the main political strategies to steer SCP. The second discursive system approaches consumption through the social world in which consumer practices are embedded in a variety of social practices, which are in their turn, influenced by social norms and constrained by institutional contexts which evoke lock-in situation.
These two discursive systems, however, are part of the same SCP discursive formation. It means that the rational choice model and social practices discursive systems, rather than refer to opposite knowledge systems or belonging to two complete different worlds, they constitute alternative political options within a common framework. This acknowledgement has deep political impact, since it makes possible to argue for a conjunction of these two discursive systems in a common set of SCP political strategies.
The possible emergence of a more robust political SCP strategy – combining the rational choice model and social practices discursive systems within a common framework – depends on changes in the balance of power between these two discursive sub-groups. A Foucaultian genealogical analysis shows that the rational choice model discursive sub-group has, firstly, dominated the formation of SCP politics, since this discursive sub-group has produced strategies that are viewed as politically useful and economically advantageous, i.e. undoubtedly contributing to the general functioning of the wheels of power. Secondly, it is also imposing a political economy of truth, i.e. to produce, regulate, distribute and circulates its principles within the archive SCP. The social practices discursive sub-group, in its turn, has been deemed as inadequate to its task, since there are no guarantees of economic advantages and political utility being derived from the adoption of cultural and social contexts of dynamics of consumption as SCP political strategies.
On the other hand, the genealogical analysis has also identified that the political struggle of knowledge between the rational choice model and social practices discursive sub-groups is starting to promote discursive changes in relation to the balance of power between them, perhaps even shaping a new ‘régime’ of truth. These changes are tracked through the identification of points of discontinuity within the SCP archive, locating breaks with the ‘true’ propositions which had until now dominated the whole ensemble of discursive practices supporting SCP discourses. These points of discontinuity have not yet brought themselves to bear, neither through political results, nor by producing new sets of SCP strategies. Nevertheless, these changes refer to an already scientific acknowledgement that a systemic approach is needed, since the rational choice model discursive sub-group has not been as effective in stimulating changes in consumption patterns as expected.
The argument that a discursive change is already in motion within the SCP archive is sustained as all actors – policy makers, business community, consumer scientists, eco-designers, etc. – instead of planning SCP policies in separate forums, are confronting their different perspectives, challenges, and experiences in common meetings, where the two SCP discursive sub-groups have their core principles questioned and challenged. By bringing the proponents of the two different sub-groups together, they are promoting an interdisciplinary discussion in order to be able to forward a better and broader SCP political strategy. Whether they will be able to surpass their own frameworks, power interests, and to foresee different gains from a new ‘régime’ of truth, is too early to say.
This thesis’ contribution to the SCP debates is to show that the rational choice model and social practices discursive sub-groups are components of the same SCP discursive formation. That means that the challenging project of bringing both discursive sub-groups into a common political framework is achievable.