Professor of Consumer Studies Mari Niva: I want to help understand why transformations related to sustainable consumption take time

Mari Niva is interested in how new practices are introduced and adopted in consumption, and how they can become increasingly sustainable.

 

What are your research topics?

I investigate consumption and the practices of consumption from the perspective of social sciences, often in multidisciplinary research groups. In recent years, we have especially focused on sustainable food consumption, such as the transformation from animal-based diets to plant-based diets, and what kind of changes related to everyday life and its functioning that transformation requires, as well as what people are ready for.

Together with my colleagues, I’ve investigated political consumption, meat consumption, veganism and the use of plant-based proteins, as well as the acceptability of insect consumption and the attempts to turn insects from ‘inedible’ to ‘edible’. My other recent themes include eating and meals in the Nordic countries as well as political discussion pertaining to ‘pure’ food.

At the moment, I’m contributing to projects that examine the transition to a sustainable diet, social norms related to sustainability and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on eating.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Hopefully, my research will help us understand why changes in consumption related to sustainability are so slow and why they requires much more than just consumers modifying their routines. It will also help to see how consumption is intertwined with established practices and with what we consider normal and acceptable at home and work as well as in terms of hobbies and free time.

The pandemic has brought into view the fact that a sudden change that imposes new restrictions on everyday living also impacts on consumption and puts people in very different positions depending on their individual circumstances. Research on this change can also help in understanding sustainability transformation and the various inflexibilities associated with it.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

I'm particularly inspired by theories of practice and their potential for taking a new approach to consumption where the focus is not on individual actions but on everyday and social practices.

I’m interested in how new products and practices are introduced and adopted in consumption, and how they can become increasingly sustainable. Eating, which I’ve studied extensively over the past 20 years, is an excellent example of a practice that is constantly changing, yet often in opposition to radical and rapid transitions.

Often, change takes time and requires restructuring of social and cultural meanings and understandings, material opportunities and skills as well as structures.

Mari Niva is the professor of consumer studies at the Department of Economics and Management, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki.