Session 5

The multiplying of household appliances: constructing normality across socio-economic groups in Western Switzerland
Marlyne Sahakian, Beatrice Bertho
University of Lausanne, Switzerland

This contribution seeks to understand how normality, or expectations around social norms, is constructed within distinct social groups and in relation to energy-intensive appliance acquisition – contributing to social practice theories and (un)sustainable consumption studies. Household appliance acquisition in Europe has continued to grow since the 1950s, tied up with notions of modernity and progress, as well as changing social norms around household chores (Sahakian 2015). Size standards around large appliances differ across contexts: the two-door North American refrigerator model has yet to become a standard in Europe, where households tend to use one-door models, smaller in height. Drawing from a Swiss research project studying household electricity consumption in Lausanne and Geneva and engaging with a social practice approach, we study the multiplying of large appliances – in quantity and size – focusing on refrigerators and dishwashing machines. In the case of families with high social and financial capital, the multiplying of dishwashing machines and incorporation of North American standards for refrigerators reflect expectations around social norms regarding cleanliness and order. Similar trends are underway among lower-income families, with less financial resources, but where we also observed appliances multiplying in the home, based this time on social norms around caring for extended families and managing food stocks. In the first case, a sense of aesthetics is upheld by blending large household appliances into the interior design; in the second case, the appliances are not hidden away but on display, with refrigerators set up in bedrooms when space elsewhere is not available.