Sustainable Consumption Practices in Brazil's “New Middle Class"

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Izabelle VIEIRA , Cpda, UFRRJ - Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fatima PORTILHO , Social Sciences Graduate Program on Development, Agriculture and Society, Univ Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro/RJ, Brazil
Jose Mauro NUNES , UERJ - State University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In recent years, Brazil and other emerging economies are showing a significant change in their socio-economic composition, which highlights the increasing income of the poorest sectors of the population. Some Brazilian authors claim that such economic improvement fosters the emergence of a "new middle class", prompting a debate on such socioeconomic changes, and on the very concept of social class, as this concept is not consensual within the Brazilian social scientists. 

Regardless of the classification which assigns to this stratum of the population, this represents a profound change in Brazilian society, with implications for their consumption patterns. This phenomenon occurs in a scenario where environmental issues gain public notoriety and the discourses that advocates the responsibility of the State, enterprises and non-governmental organizations to address them now include the role of the individual in their daily practices, including that related to consumption. So, it sets up a paradox between the possibility of increased levels of consumption and access to material goods by this economically emerging stratum (labeled as the "new middle class"), and the diffusion of the discourse and the proposals that advocate sustainable consumption and the need to reduce the consumption patterns as a way of coping with environmental problems.

Given this paradox, the paper will present results of an ethnographic study that aims to map the debate about the economic rise of the phenomenon of the less affluent in Brazil and the trajectory of environmental thinking until the moment this includes a concern about consumption patterns. This also aims to determine, from empirical cases, how these subjects are positioned in relation to the new morality established by discourses and proposals for sustainable consumption advocated by environmental groups, government agencies and businesses, and whether or not alter their daily consumption practices.