Consuming Places: A Bioregional Comparison of Voluntary Simplicity Lifestyles
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Geography, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, April 26, 2013.
Many have argued that in the developed world, consumption has reached unsustainable levels, precipitating social, economic, and environmental decline. Voluntary simplicity is an anti-consumption lifestyle in which practitioners are seeking out an authentic connection to the external world with fulfillment garnered from relationships rather than through the accumulation of material goods. Under the framework of political ecology, this research examined how bioregional characteristics impacted the way in which simplifiers think about and practice simplicity. Using focus groups, in-depth interviews and participant observation, the author did a bioregional comparison of voluntary simplifiers living in the Greater Everglades Bioregion and the Sonoran Desert Bioregion. Within each bioregion, a comparison was also made between adherents residing in an intentional community setting and individuals living non-communally. Bioregional profiles were developed to describe the historic, social, political and geographic landscapes present in each region. Applying a grounded theory approach, participant responses were analyzed within the framework of these profiles. Simplifiers shared some commonalities in their practices and motivations, regardless of bioregion or community setting. Overwhelmingly, participants adopted voluntary simplicity practices out of a sense of moral obligation to improve social and environmental conditions. Simplifiers living nonx communally prioritized the environmental impacts of their lifestyle whereas communal simplifiers foregrounded social issues such as equality and justice, communication, and cooperation. For each study group, practices depended on localized factors such as biophysical characteristics, infrastructure, and available technologies. The social and political cultures of the bioregion were more significant in shaping how simplifiers adapted to these features.