Research
Research in consumer studies focuses on the following themes: transformation of consumer society, politics of consumption, political consumerism, sustainable consumption, sustainability transitions, service innovations, young people as consumers, new phenomena in the consumption of food, and consumers’ recalled consumption experiences.

Consumer studies collaborates in multidisciplinary research projects.

Our research topics include sustainable consumption and sustainability transitions; political consumerism and citizen-consumers; adoption, appropriation and appreciation of products and services; vulnerable consumers; and cultural consumption. More specifically, we study these topics in the spheres of housing; bio-based materials and innovations; food consumption, practices of eating and dining out; as well as leisure time activities.

As a multi-disciplinary research group we analyse consumption-related phenomena from a variety of socio-cultural research perspectives. These include in particular social practice and consumer culture theories that focus not only on individual consumers but acknowledge the societal, social, cultural, economic and political environment in which people live and which are inextricably linked with consumption. Moreover, multi-disciplinarity also means that we combine approaches based on consumer studies with theories originating in other disciplines, such as sustainability science, business studies, and sociology. We also collaborate in interdisciplinary research projects in order to develop a wider understanding of the challenges related to contemporary patterns of production and consumption.

We carry out both qualitative and quantitative research. In the former approach, we use interviews, focus groups, various types of written documents (e.g., stories and diaries, discussions in the media and social media, political strategy papers) as well as qualitative surveys. In the latter approach, we apply various types of quantitative surveys, both with data representative of the population and sometimes with more targeted groups. Our projects often also include participatory methods through which we aim at engaging a variety of societal stakeholders.

Below you can see a list of some key projects in which the members of our research group are and have been involved in the recent years.

Ongoing projects

Citizens as agents of change in decarbonizing suburban and rural housing (Decarbon-Home 2020–2023/2026)

Decarbon-Home provides research excellence in the intertwined and ongoing climate-related and social challenges which necessitate a major transition in the Finnish housing system. The focus areas are suburban and rural; the urban focus is on the suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s and the rural focus is on the peripheral areas. In the project we analyze the housing system challenges from environmental, technical and social science silos to form a comprehensive understanding and to create novel, human-centred solutions to climate-wise housing, especially via renovations. Funding: Strategic Research Council. For more information, please see https://decarbonhome.fi/ or contact Eliisa Kylkilahti or other researchers of the project.

Eating and energy use reconfigured? Disruptions and novel transition pathways in food and energy systems (EE-TRANS, 2018–2022)

Growing concerns for climate change call for radical systemic changes in society in terms of both production and consumption. In order to develop the current understanding of reconfigurations required for altering the patterns of production and consumption, EE-TRANS brings together sociotechnical transition and practice theories and connects them in a novel way with the analysis of institutional disruptions. We analyse and compare two transitions-in-the-making: the reduction of meat consumption for a more sustainable food system and energy use in housing and everyday life. Funding: The Academy of Finland. For more information, please see https://blogs.helsinki.fi/ee-trans/in-english/, or contact Mari Niva, Sami Koponen or other researchers in the project.

Sustainable food transition, practices and the normativities of consumption (SUFOCON, 2021–2022)

As food production and consumption are a major factor in causing environmental problems, food systems are increasingly challenged to become more sustainable. At the level of consumption, accustomed patterns of eating are questioned and more sustainable practices, such as diminishing the eating of animal-based foods, are promoted. However, the transition involves a range of tensions, as established patterns practices are difficult to change. This study looks at how people see the ecological debates in relation to their own eating, what kind of actions they are ready for and what they expect from other actors. The theoretical background of the study lies on social practice theories and related understandings, meanings, routines, commitments and normalized ways of doing things; as well as cultural meanings and justifications associated with existing eating habits. Funding: The University of Helsinki. For more information, please contact Mari Niva or Sami Koponen.

Bio-based dyes and pigments for colour palette (BioColour 2019–2022/2025)

Sustainable bio- and circular economy calls for alternatives for the one-sided production and consumption culture based on mass markets. The aim of the Bio-based Dyes and Pigments for Colour Palette (BioColour) project is to develop new methods of biocolourant production, characterization and application, which enable the buildup of novel processes leading to a variety of sustainable items. Also, the BioColour project aspires to establish the cultural, social and ethical aspects associated with producing and consuming biocolourants and enhance wider adaption of sustainability in businesses and consumer lifestyles. BioColour project helps generating new high-class sustainable biocolour business and advancing existing business opportunities in Finland. For more information, please see https://biocolour.fi/, or contact Eliisa Kylkilahti or other researchers in the project.

Corona cooking survey (CCS, 2020–2022)

Corona cooking survey is an international project investigating what happened to buying, cooking and storing food when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in spring 2020. Based on survey data collected in 38 countries, researchers in Finland and elsewhere work together to find out what kinds of changes in eating took place in the corona crisis. For more information, please see https://coronacookingsurvey.com/ or contact Mari Niva or other researchers in the project.

Consumer-inclusive packaging system: Sustainability with circularity and bio-based materials (ConPaSS 2021)

Packaging ecosystem is an important case context at the intersection of bioeconomy and circular economy. For example, creating sustainable resource-efficient bio-based products, including alternatives to plastics, is included in the EU Bioeconomy targets. The aim is to provide solutions that support sustainability transition in the packaging system. ConPaSS builds a cutting-edge consortium based on multidisciplinary perspectives: sustainability, consumer and educational sciences as well as packaging technology, innovation policy and management. Funding: HELSUS Seed Funding. For more information, please contact Eliisa Kylkilahti.

Practices and continuity of consumption (2016–2022)

The doctoral dissertation project analyses the continuities that practices bring to consumption of both services and materials. The two cases analysed in the project are theatre and furniture. All the elements constituting a practice can also carry continuities, and these elements are investigated within the project. The aim of the project is to show, how connected a consumer is to other agencies, both human and material ones. For more information, please contact Jani Varpa.

Upmarket restaurants and artful dining (2016–2021)

The doctoral dissertation project utilizes the contemporary cultural field of upmarket restaurants to zoom in on the blurring boundaries between eating and art. Informed by practice theory and the viewpoint of taste as practice, the study investigates the construction of ‘artification’ at the actual moments of restaurant consumption and production, and as interrelated meanings, materials, and competencies. In this study, artification refers to in particular the emergence of a social practice called ‘artful dining’. Artful dining embraces aesthetic novelty, originality, norm-breaking, and other features that were once (in the West) predominantly cultivated in the domain of high art. For more information, please contact Sami Koponen.

Earlier projects

ORBIT 2017–2020: Orchestrating sustainable user-driven bioeconomy 

POPRASUS 2016–2020:  Politics, practices and the transformative potential of sustainable diets

RUOMU 2016–2020: Changing structures and competition issues in the Finnish food markets / Ruokamarkkinoiden muuttuvat rakenteet ja kilpailun toimivuus 

KäPy 2016–2019: End-user Approach to Development of Business Ecosystems in Wood-Based Building Sector

Huippudesignia vai halpatuotantoa – Kuluttajien näkemyksiä pohjoismaisten huonekalujen muotokielestä 2015: Hankkeessa tutkittiin nuorten aikuisten suhtautumista pohjoismaiseen designiin Ruotsissa, Saksassa ja Suomessa.

RUOKAMARKKINAT 2013–2016: Efficiency of the food market and transparency of food pricing in Finland

PETNETS 2012–2015: Verkostojen orkestrointi lemmikkieläinliiketoiminnan kilpailueduksi 

Sukupolvien kohtaaminen palvelukulttuurissa: nuoret ja aikuiset vuorovaikutuksen ristiaallokossa 2014–2015 

CONSER 2012–2014: Palvelukulttuuri kuluttajien tarinoissa ja taloustilastoissa 

KM-Retail 2011–2013: Customer driven innovation in retail services