Johannes R. Volden
Erik Blytt master-stipendiat
"The Morality of Mobility: Exploring Flying as Social Practice among Young Norwegian Environmentalists"
In my Master's thesis I aim to shine new critical light on an issue which is being increasingly implemented in the public debate surrounding the effects of consumer behaviours and habits on climate change and the environment, namely flying. This topic of inquiry arose to my mind as I came to realise my own hypocrisy: my habit of excessive air-travel - at times what has been termed ‘binge flying’ in the literature - is hardly reconcilable with my self-proclaimed status as an environmentalist. Aviation comes with great environmental cost, there is no doubt about this.
By conceptualising personal aeromobility as primarily a consumer practice, I hope to be able to unearth some of the mechanisms that make people engage in air-travel practices - or more specifically, the ways in which actors'/consumers' flying habits are negotiated through the interplay between structures and agency. While much of the critical attention toward flying has been on the flyer as an actor, I wish to put predominant focus on flying as practice. The conceptual framework will thus revolve around practice theories. This, I believe, will further provide a new foundation for considering the ethical and moral dilemmas and implications of personal aeromobility.
Air-travel in the form of personal aeromobility is an interesting starting point for qualitative research, I believe, given the ambivalent nature of flying as a practice. Whilst there is currently a push from the consumer side towards more sustainable consumer practices (such as recycling, reducing meat consumption, eliminating redundant plastic items, and using electric cars and public transport), the research shows that air-travel is still associated with high social status. Moreover, a growing body of research supports the notion that there are substantial gaps between actors' knowledge/values/attitudes and actions/behaviours/practices; what is often referred to as a 'cognitive dissonance', which can manifest on many different levels, from the individual consumer to the nation state to international governing bodies. Using environmentally minded individuals as the target group for my research, I hope to be able to 'flesh out' and contextualise these dissonances.
I will conduct qualitative interviews with young Norwegian environmentalists, with the following objectives: (1) to find the roles and perceptions of personal aeromobility practices in their everyday life; and (2) to gain a better understanding of the structural factors that enable unsustainable lifestyle and mobility choices or patterns.
Using these data, together with analyses of relevant literature, policy documents, and public debate, the aim of the thesis will be to circumnavigate the so-called “flyer’s dilemma” - defined by Higham et al (2014: 462) as “the tension that exists between the perceived personal benefits of deeply embedded air travel practices and the collective climate change consequences of such practices” - and suggest a productive pathway for future attitudes and governance of personal aeromobility, based on an honest and reflexive mapping of the factors which determine consumer-actors' flying practices.
Ultimately the study will, I hope, contribute to a better understanding of what role personal aeromobility plays, and ought to play, in a modern, globalised society in transition towards a greener future.
Arve Hansen (supervisor)
Odin Lysaker (co-supervisor)