Towards a general theory of thrift

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Thrift used to mean necessary scrimping and saving in order to get by. But more recently, with growing prosperity coupled with a heightened sense of global social and environmental fragility, the meaning of thrift has shifted in advanced economies connecting with various practices geared towards reconfigured modes of consumption and lifestyles - ethical, conscientious or collaborative. Many scholars and commentators have noted this shift and at least as many explanations have been proposed. This provides us with an opportunity to develop a more general theory of thrift by proposing that all thrift behaviours and practices can be understood over three basic dimensions that we identify as: (1) 'causes of thrift'; (2) 'meaning of thrift'; and (3) 'thrift capital/capabilities'. We show how existing but disparate definitions and empirical studies of thrift can be organized with respect to this framework and how this enables us to elucidate the nature of the shift that is currently occurring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-241
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • consumption
  • ethics
  • everyday practices
  • frugality
  • general theory
  • thrift

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