Waste and Consumption in Rural Areas, a Q Methodology Study

Rebecca Smith, PhD student and Lecturer in Sustainable Rural Development, Lews Castle College, UHI. content

Rebecca Smith, PhD student and Lecturer in Sustainable Rural Development, Lews Castle College, UHI.

In 2012 I presented a study entitled “Is there a Sustainable Future for Recycling in Remote and Rural Places”? The question was raised, “what can the Zero Waste mantra of ‘waste is a resource not a problem’, mean for a rural area that is at a distance from economies of scale for waste collection and recycling”?

This research has since reached a revision in light of austerity economics and a stronger focus for prevention and reuse in zero waste policy. It seems prevention and reuse offers a less material intensive and more affordable option, however, the effort and support to mainstream and adopt effective prevention and reuse strategies is hampered by the strong link between increasing levels of wealth and consumption, and the economic growth of regions and places.

As far back as 1999, Inge Ropke clearly highlights this complex dilemma of growing consumption, where on the one hand mainstream economists argue that growing consumption is the result of people’s demand, people obviously want to consume more and more. On the other hand, environmentalist cultural critics argue that enormous growth has not made people happier. Up to a certain level material progress increases welfare, but we in the North passed this a long time ago.

Further research points to a much more complex reality that helps to explain the difficulties in gaining political support to curb consumption. Our ideas of everyday life, quality of life, and images of the good life are all intricately interwoven within our consumption practices.  Further, the theory of ‘competent practitioner’ provides a more forgivable motive to consume than the traditional theories of ‘conspicuous consumption’ (Ropke, 2009).

This study explores the need to develop a greater understanding of human motivations to consume in rural places, where the economic incentive to encourage greater consumption and growth is strong. It introduces Q Methodology as the most appropriate research tool for the task.


  • Ropke, I. (1999) The dynamics of willingness to consume, Ecological Economics 28 (1999) 399-420.
  • Ropke, I. (2009) Theories of practice – New Inspiration for ecological economic studies on consumption, Ecological Economics 68 (Issue 10) 2490-2497.

Find out more about Rebecca's work here.

If you would like to attend this seminar either in person or via VC/Jabber please contact Amy Woolvin.