In June, I attended the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI)’s Conference at Clark University. I had never been to Clark, which is located in Worchester, MA, but had heard good things about it from one of my Nature Conservancy colleagues from China who had gotten her masters degree there. It is a little hard to get there, but has a beautiful campus that is easy to get around. The plenary sessions of the conference were held in a particularly beautiful and airy space, Tilton Hall.
The conference itself had a great range of talks and panels relating to consumption and sustainability. I presented a paper on “The Consumer/Citizen Relationship across Time and Space: Millennial Perspectives on Responsible Citizenship in Different Issue Domains,” which built on insights from my political science seminar on citizens, consumers, and the environment. In the seminar, students are required to write a 20-25 page research paper on responsible citizenship applying concepts and theories discussed in the class to a particular issue area that they are interested in – water, energy, climate change, etc. I thought it would be interesting to systematically examine the approaches they took and the citizenship-related ideas they used in their papers. The analysis was an interesting window on how the concept of citizenship translates both across issue areas and generations.
Overall, the students used a wide range of concepts in their papers, but made particularly extensive use of ideas from our readings on communitarianism, consequentialism, the engaged citizen, and social capital. One of the overarching conclusions of the paper and from the course is that responsible citizenship as an overarching frame of reference may be more appealing to younger generations than sustainable consumerism, which increasingly may be seen as a necessary but insufficient component of a citizen’s responsibilities.