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Sociology & Psychology

Your chance to understand how human behaviour interacts with culture and society

Welcome to the University of Portsmouth School of Sociology with Psychology.  Students studying Sociology with Psychology at Portsmouth develop a deep understanding of human behaviour and how this interacts with culture and society.

Sociology, Psychology and Climate Change

One of the biggest challenges facing human societies is how to tackle climate change. The main driver behind climate change is human consumption whether that be our eating habits, choice of transportation and lifestyle choices.

In this activity you’ll step into the shoes of a Sociologist and Psychologist to learn about how our consumption behaviour impacts the planet, and what our key social motivations are that influence our consumption.

You’ll consider the following questions:

  • How much waste our current lifestyle produces?
  • How this waste impacts our environment?
  • What motivates our consumption behaviours?

How much waste does our current lifestyle create?

Every day as we go about our daily lives we consume and use resources whether that is throwing away food, throwing away packaging and cardboard from our latest online purchase or using cars/buses/tubes to make our daily commutes to school and college. How much waste does all this activity and consumption really make?


What impact does our consumption and waste have on the environment?

That’s a lot of food  to waste each year. All of the food we waste adds greenhouse gases to our atmosphere through its production, transportation and cooking processes. In addition to greenhouse gases and their impact on global temperatures, there is also the issue of how long it takes all of this waste to biodegrade. 
See if you can guess how long average household items which we throw away take to degrade.


What motivates our consumption behaviours?

Most of us produce a lot of waste and that waste impacts our planet in lots of different ways from producing greenhouse gases, increasing plastic in our oceans or leaving disposable items to decompose for hundreds if not thousands of years. 

But what drives us to consume and be so wasteful? This is a question sociologists are interested in and have spent decades learning about. 

Some might argue we buy lots of new clothes, shoes, mobiles, laptops because consuming makes us happy. Yet research shows that the effect of buying new goods on our happiness is fleeting and no doubt for many replaced with sadness when we look at our bank accounts! So why else do we do it?

To answer that it might be worth reflecting on why you buy products?


The Sciency-bit

Most people will have answered Yes to at least one of the questions which highlights how as humans, we are influenced by social pressures to consume. At university, Sociology and Psychology students are expected to research topics like this and present their findings in essays or presentations, a bit like you do at school. One of the questions that students might look to answer is, Where does the social pressure to consume come from? Keep reading to learn just a little more about why we consume goods in the way that we do, and the impact this has on our planet.

Social Capital

According to Pierre Bourdieu (1984), our family and educational experiences help to shape our taste for a wide range of goods, from food to clothing. Our consumption takes on new importance when we realise that our dress, choice in car, or lifestyle consumptions (like a new gym membership) reinforce, and reproduce, our class status

Competitive Consumption

Juliet Schor (1999) takes a slightly different perspective arguing that we all engage in competitive consumption which is where we attempt to keep up with the norms of the social group we identify with. For example, your school mates get a new smart phone and now you want the latest model too. Whilst Schor argues that in the past we used those around as our reference group (horizontal emulation) nowadays, we use rich and wealthy members of our society as our reference groups (vertical emulation) leading to increased consumption. For example, have you or anyone you know ever followed an influencer on Instagram and then wanted something they had?

What does this mean for our planet?

Whilst we continue to engage in over-consumption through social processes and other structural forces, we are warming up our planet, reducing biodiversity and increasing the plastics in the oceans to name just a few of the negative environmental consequences.


Find out more about how Sociology and Psychology links to Climate Change:


Find out about related courses