Suppressing anti-capitalism : pro-environmental behavior and conformity in the face of crisis
May 9, 2018
Department or Program
Despite their gravitation toward neo-Marxist beliefs that establish a pessimistic view of capitalism, Whitman College students also feel pressure to adapt to growth-centric, “sustainable” changes and behaviors. My thesis examines how students negotiate this contradiction between anti-capitalist and green capitalist values. Using both survey data and in-depth interviews, I investigate the relationship between students’ worldviews regarding capitalism’s impact on the environment and their reported pro-environmental behaviors. My statistical analyses tentatively conclude that anti-capitalist students engage in market-oriented environmental behaviors despite their belief that capitalism inherently damages the environment. Interviews further reveal that anti-capitalist students express profound uncertainty toward market-oriented environmental change, and they engage in a variety of coping mechanisms in order to reduce cognitive dissonance caused by their attitudinal instability and value-action gap. These results reinforce the pervasiveness of consumerism and capitalism in society, suggesting the need for education -- not just about environmental issues -- but also about the social psychological responses to environmental issues. If young environmentalists learn to recognize the effects of their privilege and sense of hopelessness, they may be able to break patterns of conformity and regain hope for resistance.