Making sense of personal environmental action
: A relational reframing through the study of activists’ experiences

  • Karijn van den Berg

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis focuses on the analysis of “personal environmental action”, by which I mean practices where individuals take, or are encouraged to take, measures to enact environmental change in their personal lives, such as their consumption, household and lifestyle choices. Academic literature presents varied understandings of such practices. While some develop frameworks that advocate forms of “green citizenship” that embody personal environmental action, others criticise such practices as “governmental” forms of individualisation and responsibilisation. This thesis argues that existing understandings would benefit from further empirical analysis, and in particular require a stronger focus on intersectional power relations involved in structuring personal environmental action. To provide such an analysis this thesis adopts a feminist political ecology framework to explore personal environmental action empirically through the perspectives of environmental activists and organisers engaged through multi-sited fieldwork undertaken at three transnational events. Engagement with activists’ perspectives garners insights into how personal environmental action is perceived “on the ground” and how activists negotiate the potential and limitations of such practices. The empirical analysis of activist perspectives is then used to propose a more nuanced relational approach to conceiving of and practicing personal environmental action.

Through an empirical analysis and a theoretical reformulation arising from that analysis the thesis seeks to make three contributions to knowledge. First, it explores the lacunas in existing accounts of personal environmental action, in particular the limitations in how existing literatures understand the nature and role of individual responsibility on the one hand and dynamics of power on the other. Second, it highlights empirically how individual responsibility and power dynamics play out in the practice of personal environmental action as conceived by environmental activists on the ground. Third, the thesis offers a relational conceptual reframing of personal environmental action, which allows us to both better understand empirical dynamics and to reconceptualise the practice.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMilja Kurki (Supervisor) & Naomi Millner (Supervisor)

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