On whether to join the NUDGE consortium

I refer to this.

@ivan I noticed that this mail is two weeks old. Any reply will need to start with an apology. Also, personally I think this kind of email we should prioritize.

So, this document is pretty unimaginative. The basic frame of the U Cambridge (why is it always the British?) report seems to be:

  1. people are to blame for CO2 emission, because we consume unsustainably.
  2. Consumption is a private choice. Nothing to do with the creation of monopolies, the advertising industries manufacturing desires, planned obsolescence. Not at all! If corporations misbehave, they would be punished by the market, so they would go out of business in favour of more virtuous competitors.
  3. So, private choices have to change.
  4. Private choices are made according to some kind of algorithm, that includes peer pressure. If your friends become vegetarians, you are more likely to become vegetarian.
  5. Let’s use behavioral theory to get people to change their behavior.
  6. By implication, let’s not regulate companies, forbid unsustainable products, enforce the right to repair, ban cars from the streets etc.

Apart from what we personally might or might not believe, this is not how anthropologists or sociologists look at the world. Integrity demands that we question the modeling of lifestyles as a mere sum of consumption decisions, and rather take a more holistic view. We need not only to look at culture, but to look at it as a dependent variable, and ask (like Graeber, Ferguson etc.) “where does this belief come from”?

So. I would be up for taking the note we sent to Delft and sending it to these guys. But then, someone (Nica?) needs to negotiate that we need the intellectual space to do more than consumer surveys. Nothing wrong with those, but then the project’s framework needs to be broad enough to accommodate “our” approach. Maybe a WP on transformation from a cultural/social/historical angle, based on the same two case studies that we already have in mind. @Nica , what do you think?

I agree – the neoliberal “private choice” approach is the terrible and anti-systemic. I also personally think that individual sustainable behaviors make people less radical/more apathetic politically because they are soothed that they are doing their part and they co-sign the narrative that shorter showers/recycling/etc will save the planet.

In my experience the “neoliberal fix” folks aren’t really on the bandwidth to be interested in anthropological or political ecology perspectives but if they would be open to that, sure, we could collaborate.

Yep, this is why we need to be straightforward. This project is even codenamed NUDGE, FFS.

Alberto, did you see my notes on the Delft consortium docs?

They ARE poorly written but in principle there is more potential for synergy there than with these folks…But I am willing to be pleasantly surprised!

OK, but if they are bad at writing they will not win, so that nullifies the synergies.

Anyway, I defer to you. One thing that @ivan could write in the accompanying email is this: it is in both coordinators best interest to involve SSH researchers in a non-tokenistic way. No disrespect is meant to behavioral psych nudgeboys, but the call wants involvement of SSH, and a well-rounded application of holistic, systemic, anthro thinking is going to be a differentiator. Something like "we are going to do all the behavioral AB testing and the song and dance, but we are also taking very seriously the “tipping points” à la Polanyi (the application of policies promoting self-regulating markets caused a counterpush of “dislocated” individual, families and communities, that ultimately led them to embrace fascism. This stuff you will not catch by AB testing.