Experiments in everyday life

This section from Material Participation by Noortje Marres brought home the sociological significance of lifestyle experiments to me. I’d been prone to framing things like lifestyle minimalism as a form of neo-asceticism and I can easily see a more charitable framing along the lines of pg 91 here:

They can be likened to the experimental technique for researching everyday life developed by the ethnomethodologist Harold Garfinkel and his disciples in the 1960s, the so-called breaching experiments. Like these famous exercises, sustainable living experiments involve the controlled disruption of ordinary scenes (Garfinkel, 1984 (1967)). Breaching experiments challenged social conventions according to a simple but strictly defined set of rules, for instance by asking experimenters to stand too close to colleagues during conversation, or to address their parents as strangers over breakfast. Sustainable living experiments, too, dismantle everyday ways of doing things according to a basic experimental protocol. These protocols may take various forms, with some dictating ‘one simple change a day’, while others set a quantitative target, such as reducing energy use or waste by X percent.

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