Understanding overconsumption: symbolic and spatial transgressions in public places
Summary, in English
Consumer research has a long tradition of examining the limits of consumer society (e.g. Schor & Holt, 2000). Overconsumption refers to a harmful and excessive type of consumption practice, which is typical of contemporary consumerism (Kjellberg, 2008). In the past, overconsumption was used synonymously with more theoretical concept such as hyper-consumption (Kilbourne et al., 1997) and affluent consumption (Schaefer & Crane, 2005), and linked to responsible (Leigh et al., 1988) and sustainable (Prothero et al., 2011) consumption. In this paper, we approach overconsumption as the practice of overusing public places and common goods (Chatzidakis et al., 2012; Visconti et al., 2010). The aim of research is to provide insights into the mechanisms of overconsumption and how they may be managed to sustain sustainable urban environments. Previous research has mainly focused on the causes and effects of the overconsumption of food products and goods that contribute to individual identity (Kjellberg, 2008). By contrast, the practice informed approach adopted here shifts the focus from causality to narrative experiences of overconsumption. As a particular case in point, the study examines residents’ discontents with tourists’ overuse of public services, built environments, and tourism spectacles in the European cities of Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Barcelona (cf. Colomb & Novy, 2016; Lindberg et al., 2019; Miles, 2010). A combination of different qualitative methods was used to capture narrative experiences of overconsumption. The empirical data was collected between 2018 and 2020. It consists of social media narratives and online news stories on residents’ protests against tourism, narratives from in-depth interviews with members of citizen advocacy groups for reducing tourism consumption, and observations of meetings between advocacy groups, local governments, and destination management organisations. The research questions we pose are: What does overconsumption entail and how is it enacted? When does tourism consumption turn into overconsumption? In analysing residents’ narratives about tourism consumption, we draw on the consumer-citizen concept (Soper & Trentmann, 2008; Prothero et al., 2011), and the view of consumption as a site for citizenship, civic action (Micheletti, 2003), and moral conflicts (Lindberg et al. 2019). Our findings reveal that overconsumption is narratively construed in the transgression of symbolic and spatial boundaries between realms of residents and visitors. Narratives of overconsumption serve as a way to voice discontent with political issues tied to social inequalities and lack of housing in the cities. Protest narratives are justified by linking them to environmental damages and overuse of public transport and infrastructure. In conclusion, civic narratives of overconsumption make it possible to unpack the practices and conditions of the concept, which provides insights into how the consumption of cities may be made more sustainable.