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By Cecily Maller

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When considering how to achieve social-ecological change, or to encourage people to care for nature, there is much discussion about needing to change people’s values. This situation arises because it is often thought that one of the main ways to create change is to target values, because changing values will then change what people do. Behind this thinking is the idea that what people do can be explained by their values, attitudes, behaviours and choices – sometimes called the ‘ABC model’, where values and attitudes drive behaviour and choices.

However, this means of understanding what people do is only one way to explain and describe human activity. ABC models and other similar explanations come from disciplines such psychology and economics which often assume behaviour is rational and influenced in a linear way by values and attitudes. Other disciplines in the social sciences, such as sociology and geography, as well as Indigenous knowledges, tend to think about human activity differently. These ways of thinking start from examining the relationships between people and a whole host of things and the contexts in which they live their lives, including human communities, technologies, infrastructures, climates, landscapes, places, ecosystems and non-human species. Accounting for these contexts and relationships, the things they involve, when, why and how they occur, and the connections between them over space and time, differs from more linear approaches focused only on individual human behaviour.

With the idea of thinking differently about explaining what people do (or don’t do) to care for nature and how to encourage it, in this paper I introduce theories of social practice as an alternative way of conceptualising social-ecological change and how to achieve it. Theories of social practice are ways of understanding everyday life focusing on the things people do every day that make up daily routines, including during the week, on weekends, and in different seasons or at particular times of the year. This includes practices such as working, caring, volunteering, holidaying, commuting, cooking, and gardening, among many other activities, as well as the things that these practices involve, how they are linked together, and how they can change over time. Using this thinking, I explain how changing practices might be a way to also change values and how this could be a more effective means of achieving social-ecological change.