is small, but the authors contend its design overrepresents subpopulations
who have the knowledge and skills to implement rational analyses. More
than one-third of the households contained at least one member who was
a financial services professional, had some collegiate coursework on the
topics of payback periods and net present value calculations, or ran a small
business or farm. Also, at the time of the interviews gasoline prices on
average were higher in California than nationally.
The research design and context were biased towards finding rational
consumers, yet none were found. Even those respondents who do possess
economic skills have not applied them to an automobile purchase. One of
the financial service sector respondents replied to the question about how
long to wait to be paid back by fuel cost savings by saying, “Oh, the payback
period. I never thought of it that way.” A few respondents track fuel use
and expenses, but did so for maintenance purposes, and none could recall
details or summaries of the costs or fuel amounts.
Hypothetically, sustained increases in gasoline prices could encourage
more rational calculations by more automotive consumers as over time
people could learn and apply rational analytic tools and methods. The inter-
views suggest however, that such change is unlikely. Further, such a hypoth-
esis would still overlook the more compelling behavioral approach
presented next.
An Alternative Behavioral Approach
The alternative approach presented in this chapter draws on several theo-
retical perspectives. First, social constructionist approaches “argue that
people perceive the world the way they do because they participate in
socially shared practices and interact with the world in terms of meaning
systems which are simultaneously transmitted, reproduced and transformed
in direct and symbolic social interchanges” (Dittmar, 1992). Further, a social
constructionist perspective “views material possessions as socially shared
symbols for identity” (Dittmar, 1992). When consumer goods serve as
symbols, function and meaning coexist. For example, sport utility vehicles
(SUVs) may signify “independence” because high ground clearance and four-
wheel drive give them the capability to drive off-road. Heffner, Turrentine,
and Kurani (2006) provide a more extensive review of social construction-
ist approaches and markets for automobiles.
Second, Nobel Prize–winning economist Gary Becker (1992) proposed
that a household should be treated as a collective of individuals that acts
to produce consumption from inputs such as income, time, goods, services,
skills, and knowledge. Combined with social constructionist ideas, house-
holds can be seen to be creating novel value and new elements of their nar-
ratives through the purchase and use of goods and services.
Third, another Nobel Prize winner in economics, Daniel Kahneman,
argues that intuition based on accessible information is the more common
Narrative Self-Identity and Societal Goals 221
basis for judgments than is reason, which includes such things as rational
calculations (Kahneman, 2002; Kahneman and Frederick, 2002).
Last, the approach presented here draws on Anthony Giddens’s struc-
turation approach (1984, 1991), which defines and elaborates how the forces
driving modernization link with social constructionist approaches to per-
sonal identity. Giddens identifies the conditions under which a person’s
identity has been transformed from a socially defined role into a personal
project. Specifically, he defines “the reflexive project of the self” as “the
process whereby self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-
narratives” (Giddens, 1991). Only under such conditions does it make sense
to discuss the role of consumer products in self-constructed narratives of
identity. Table 13-1 provides a contrast between the major points of the
rational actor model just presented and the alternative approach to be devel-
oped in the remainder of this section.
Decisions and Actions
The first point of departure from the rational analytic framework is that not
all behaviors are preceded by a decision. Therefore, a theory of decision
making will omit from analysis some relevant actions. “Action” refers to a
broader set of behavioral outcomes than “decisions,” such that actions are
roughly categorized into the subset of actions taken because of decisions to
act and the subset of actions taken in the absence of decisions to act.
Olshavsky and Granbois (1979) distilled “decision processes” into four
1. Two or more alternative actions exist, and, therefore, choice must occur.
2. Evaluative criteria facilitate the forecasting of each alternative’s conse-
quences for the consumer’s goals or objectives.
3. The chosen alternative is determined by a decision rule or evaluative
4. Information sought from external sources and/or retrieved from memory
is processed in the application of the decision rule or evaluation
222 Driving Climate Change
TABLE 13-1. Two Behavioral Approaches
Rational Analytical “Social Constructionist”
1. Decisions Actions
2. Individual Social creation and exchange of symbols
3. Self-interest Self-identity
4. (Preexisting) preferences Investment in consumption outputs
5. Relevant attributes of alternatives Symbols and accessible attributes of
perceived alternatives

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