How to Generate Knowledge on Styles of Living and Acting? Comparing Different Approaches to a Core Concept in Environmental Sociology
In this paper I discuss different approaches to study lifestyles with regard to conceptual and methodological questions. In its first section I discuss the conceptual background of studying lifestyles in the context of sustainability research. It is assumed that the concept of style is the most appropriate tool for the study of social structures. Actors are considered to be creative in principle as well as free in their decisions to a certain extent. Furthermore, the concept is well suited to be concretized on different levels relevant for sustainability research. In the second section I present several approaches dealing with style-based analyses of social structures to highlight the characteristics of the concept and the methodology. In addition to the classics I particularly focus on Bourdieu’s sociology since he found an answer to the questions whether and to what extent style analysts can claim objectivity and validity for their research results. In section 3 these methodological considerations serve as an assessment criterion in the discussion of different style-based approaches to sustainability questions. I show how the idea of lifestyle research is operationalized in different empirical studies and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches especially for questions of sustainability research. Finally, on the basis of this evaluation I develop methodological proposals for the study of styles of living and acting to understand the coupling of society to biophysical structures.