I am a sociologist based in the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI). I also teach in Sociology, where I am Course Convenor for SOCY20232 ‘Sustainability, Consumption and Global Responsibilities’.
My work falls into two broad categories: firstly, a concern with the unsustainability of our consumer societies, and secondly, an interest in how to theorise social change. My interests lie in novel articulations between the sociology of consumption, cultural economy and economic sociology.
My current research project is a two year ESRC ‘New investigators’ Grant’ ES/R007942/1) called “Imagined Futures of Consumption” (01/09/2018-31/08/2020). Imagined futures of consumption have played an important role in economic and political imaginaries since the end of the Second World War, critically in the form of the promise of ‘prosperity for all’ realised through mass consumption in the consumer society. Today, particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, the C20th imaginary of consumer society is fundamentally challenged, opening up cultural and social space for competing imagined futures of consumption. It is within this social and political-economic context that the project will explore the role of imagined futures of consumption in processes of social and political contestation and legitimation, and how such futures shape, and are shaped by, social processes (Mische 2009). The first core empirical component of the project will explore lay expectations of the future of consumption through a Mass Observation Archive Directive. The second core empirical component will involve participant observation with professional ‘futurists’ that produce imagined futures of consumption, from visions of future (or post-)consumer society to scenarios of specific systems of provision, materialised in reports and other media.
Much of my work has sought to address lacunae that can be identified in practice theory (Welch and Warde 2015; Warde, Welch and Paddock, 2017). One strand of this work has addressed the implications of practice theory for interventions into behavioural change and purposive interventions in the name of sustainability (Spurling, McMeekin, Shove, Southerton and Welch, 2013; Southerton and Welch, 2015; Welch, 2017). In another strand of this work I have sought to build social theory on Schatzki’s (1996, 2002) social ontology of practice. Here I have addressed how to conceptualise within a practice theoretical framework: firstly, widely shared cultural understandings (Welch and Warde, 2017); secondly, configurations of multiple practices and discourses that I call “teleoaffective formations” (Welch, 2017); and thirdly, collective actors and collective activity (Welch and Yates, 2018). In more recent work, I am seeking to theorise projectivity towards the future within this developing framework.
Previous empirical projects have addressed 'Sustainable Consumption & Production and Political Economy in the UK Food Services Sector’ (funded by the SCI, 2016-18) and ‘Households, Retailers and Food Waste Transitions’ (ESRC project ES/L00514X/1, P.I. Prof. David Evans, 2014-2015. The latter explored how collective actors in the UK framed, responded to and interpreted the issue of food waste and sought to intervene in debates around the ‘responsibilisation of the consumer’ in sustainable consumption (Evans, Welch & Swaffield, 2017, 2018; Swaffield, Evans & Welch, 2018; Welch, Swaffield & Evans, 2018).
My PhD research (2008-2012), supervised by Alan Warde and Dale Southerton (Sociology, University of Manchester) addressed the formation and development of the commercial field of sustainability communications, and its significance for cultural intermediation of sustainable consumption and corporate sustainability.