Gap year travel as a social practice: A study of long-haul flying in the age of climate change.
Luzecka, Paulina Monika
Date: 24 June 2016
University of Exeter
PhD in Environment, Energy and Resilience
The continued growth of aviation poses a major challenge to climate change mitigation. Many argue that absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not be possible without restricting demand and call for fundamental changes in travel patterns, particularly flying shorter distances. However, research shows that voluntary behaviour ...
The continued growth of aviation poses a major challenge to climate change mitigation. Many argue that absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not be possible without restricting demand and call for fundamental changes in travel patterns, particularly flying shorter distances. However, research shows that voluntary behaviour change in this area is unlikely: even those who express concern over aviation emissions are unwilling to sacrifice their travel plans for the sake of the environment. It has been argued, therefore, that researchers and policy makers should direct their attention to the collective nature of unsustainable air travel, rather than blaming individual passengers for their “choices”. This thesis provides an in-depth and socially situated understanding of long-haul flying within the gap year context, which is an increasingly popular activity for the British youth. Drawing on Giddens’s structuration theory and using data from a study, which employed a variety of qualitative research methods, this thesis first positions the gap year as a social practice, characterized by shared social meanings, norms and resources; second, it explores factors influencing its current long-haul character; and third, examines the role of agency in gap year participation and mobility decisions. The findings suggest that travel to (often several) long-haul destinations is a particularly desirable, appropriate and convenient way of “doing a gap year” and that opportunities for making more sustainable choices, whilst not completely absent, are constrained. Moreover, the rules and resources that form the terrain for action for prospective gap year takers are shaped by numerous networked agents. As such, this thesis joins the calls for redefining the problem of unsustainable mobility from that of individual “choice” to collective travel practices. Strong structuration is suggested as a particularly useful conceptual framework to study non-routine forms of travel, such as gap years. Policy implications are discussed, specifically potential interventions that could shift the gap year practice into a more sustainable trajectory, or substitute it for a less carbon-intensive equivalent.
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