Adopting an environmental identity

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Methodology

This chapter will make the reader familiarized with the chosen methodology of this research. How the literature search was conducted will be presented, and the philosophy, approaches and strategy will be justified. Lastly, the methods for collecting and analyzing data will be discussed, as well as how the sample of this study was selected and the trustworthiness of data.

Literature search

A comprehensive literature search was conducted to establish a better understanding of the research topic, to attain valuable information and to identify a gap in existing literature that this research aims to fill (Collis and Hussey, 2014). Literature has been collected through the use of Jönköping University’s database, Primo, together with other electronic databases such as Emerald Insight, ScienceDirect and Scopus where peer-reviewed articles have been selected. To ensure that articles of high quality and reliability were used, the numbers of citations have been taken into consideration. Moreover, due to the newness of the research topic, some information has been gathered from recently conducted reports. When the literature has been searched for, keywords such as ‘edible insects’, ‘postmodernism’, ‘environmental identity’, ‘green consumerism’, ‘meat substitutes’,’ flexitarian’ and ‘vegetarian’ have been frequently used. Literature concerning identity and postmodernism in general, as well as green consumerism, has built up to the established frame of references.

Research philosophy

The research philosophy is a fundamental component when conducting a research. As this study is within the field of consumer culture, the reality that is studied is socially constructed (Bauman, 2000), and the authors therefore adhered to the ontological approach of interpretivism in order to understand the nature of social entities (Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill, 2016). The epistemological approach was drawn from the ontological reality, in which knowledge is derived from subjective interpretations of the informants rather than objectively determined (Collis and Hussey, 2014). To clarify, multiple realities are taken into consideration when drawing conclusions, which are extracted from the informants’ lived experiences, rather than abstract generalizations based on one “true” reality (Hurworth, 2017).
That reality is objectively given lays the basis for positivism, which is stated amongst researchers to be close related to interpretivism. Positivism implies that the observations made in this study would be described by measurable properties, in other terms be mathematically defensible (Collis and Hussey, 2014). By using the interpretivism paradigm, the study is instead based on subjective interpretations and understandings of the social reality (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2009) Therefore, it was possible to gain a deeper understanding of social actors, namely consumers with an environmental identity, and how these consumers evaluate edible insects as a meat substitute.

Research approach

Within the field of research, the approach is split into quantitative or qualitative research. A quantitative research is an approach for testing hypothesis by examining the relationship amongst variables and it is common to use large sample sizes to generalize a population and draw conclusions (Saunders et al., 2009). Whilst a quantitative research stems from positivism, a qualitative research is associated with interpretivism (Collis and Hussey, 2014).
A qualitative research indicates a more exploratory approach, and open-ended questions are used for the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of motivations, reasons and actions taken by the selected sample (Byrne, 2001). As this study attempts to explore how consumers evaluate insects as meat substitute, in relation to their environmental identity, a qualitative research approach was chosen. This approach made it possible to discover patterns amongst the informants and to identify common themes that could be further analyzed and discussed, as compared to a quantitative research approach that includes numerical data and lacks insight into underlying motivations and reasoning (Saunders et al., 2009).
Three methodological approaches exist within research: deductive, inductive, and abductive. The deductive approach is foremost used in a quantitative research as it collects information from academic sources in order to design a research strategy that is tested by empirical observations (Collis and Hussey, 2014). Considering that a qualitative research approach was chosen for this study, a deductive approach with focus on scientific research and testing theory is argued to be an inadequate approach. An inductive approach, which is commonly used in a qualitative research, was chosen. This approach generally starts by collecting data, which is used to identify themes in order to investigate and analyze social phenomena (Saunders et al., 2016). To clarify, the idea is to generate new conceptual frameworks from the observations of empirical reality; that is, a reality that can be studied and proved with sufficient evidence (Collis and Hussey, 2014).
The third approach, abductive, is a combination of deductive and inductive. The approach indicates that researchers explore a phenomenon on the basis of information that is known, and is foremost used in order to generate the best predictions when surprising implications have been observed throughout the process of collecting data (Bryman and Bell, 2015). Although the inductive approach can be argued to be very limited, considering that a generalization is made in a very diverse world based on a specific observation, it fuels exploration (Saunders et al., 2016). As the purpose of this research is to gain a deeper insight into how consumers with an environmental identity evaluate meat substitute, and edible insects as an alternative source of protein, the authors adhered to the philosophical position that the reality is a social construction with subjective interpretations (Collis and Hussey, 2014). Therefore, by aiming to conduct a qualitative research with an inductive approach, patterns and themes are observed during the empirical studies, which help to draw general conclusions of the phenomenon that is being studied: to consume insects as a meat substitute (Saunders et al., 2016).

Research strategy

This research aims to investigate a phenomenon within consumer culture in the attempt to explore how certain consumers evaluate insects as a meat substitute. In order to successfully carry out the aim, the authors chose to apply action research (AR) as the research strategy. The fundamental assumption of the strategy suggests that the social world is in constant change, where both researcher and informants are a part of that change (Saunders et al., 2009). Furthermore, the characteristics of this strategic approach are to solve a problem and contribute to science through identifying a research objective, execute a literature review and lastly collect and analyze the findings to present a result. Ideally, these results lead to reflections of ideas for redefinitions, improvement and further studies (Collis and Hussey, 2014).
Literature suggests that AR strategy are suitable for ‘how’ concerns and the investigation of change in social contexts which correlates to the research question of this thesis (Saunders et al., 2009). Furthermore, to involve informants who directly have experienced the social contexts that are studied are of importance in order to create reflection and adjust information throughout the study. This, in turn, will help the researcher to find new areas of inquiry for the purpose to achieve more accurate results (Collis and Hussey, 2014). A strength of AR is the focus on development and change, which allow the researcher to learn from mistakes and implement improvement along the research process (Nørgaard and Sørensen, 2016). On the other hand, the approach has received skepticism from several theorists meaning that results tend to be laden with subjectivity, showing a tendency from the researcher to bias the analysis in personal aspects (Kock, 2005). Another criticism towards AR is that the methodology could result in ‘fuzzy’ answers without clear structure due to its redefinitions throughout the process, which also could be very time consuming (Walter, 2009). The criticism was considered when conducting the interviews and analyzing the empirical findings, for example by identifying themes in order to properly structure the informants’ answers.

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Methods for Data Collection

For this research, the data was collected through primary data due to limitations within existing research regarding the phenomenon of consuming insects. Primary data is collected for a specific purpose and classified as a first-hand source of data, and the empirical data were retrieved from eight semi-structured interviews (Collis and Hussey, 2014; Wengraf, 2001).

Pilot interview

A pilot interview was conducted before the main interviews, in order to ensure the validity and quality of the designed interview questions. The pilot interview was held in Jönköping, Sweden, with a 21-year-old male who identify himself as a vegetarian, and the interview lasted for 30 minutes and 14 seconds. The pilot interview gave insights into whether or not the questions were easy for the informants to understand, and made it possible to evaluate the relevance of the questions and answers in relation to the research purpose. By redesigning some questions, the quality of the questions could be improved before conducting the main interviews.

Semi-Structured Interviews

According to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2014), two types of interviews are viewed as ‘non-standardized’ and suggested as suitable in qualitative studies, namely semi-structured and unstructured interviews. The unstructured interview technique lacks predetermined questions, and is mainly used when investigating individuals’ most significant experiences, issues and lessons of a lifetime (Saunders et al., 2009). These aspects often emerge in the course of spending time, and listening, to the informants’ life stories. Considering the time constraint of this study, and that the informality of unstructured interviews could violate the relevance and accuracy of the interviews (Brinkmann, 2014), the authors conducted the interviews with a semi-structured interview technique.
A total of 27 predetermined questions were formed in order to explore the informants’ motivations, reasons, and feelings toward the research topic (Saunders et al., 2009). The predetermined questions are presented in appendix 1. In order to assure the relevance of the predetermined questions, in relation to the purpose of the research, they were grounded upon the research question and the theoretical foundations that are presented in chapter 2. Furthermore, open-ended questions were used and depending on the given answers, follow-up questions such as “why” and “how” were asked in order to explore key points in depth. Although the flexibility of open-ended questions may lessen reliability and that honesty of the informants is not guaranteed, closed-ended questions are likely to generate short answers such as “yes” and “no”, which could result in limited interpretations or biased answers (Collis and Hussey, 2014).

Interview Outline

The semi-structured interviews were carried out face-to-face in Jönköping, Sweden. Eight informants were individually interviewed, and the interviews varied between 40-60 minutes. With consent from the informants, the eight interviews were recorded and timed. As all the informants have Swedish as their native language, the interviews were held in Swedish. This removed potential language barriers that may occur when speaking a second language.
During the interviews, one author led the interview, while the second author observed and took notes of the given answers. The documentation made it possible to identify key points throughout the interview, and to identify gaps that could assist the author, who lead the interview, with additional follow-up questions.
In order to get a general understanding of the informants, the first 5 questions focused on their identity construction and environmental concerns. In the following 7 questions, the informants were asked about their food consumption and what they perceive to be green products, and why. Based on these 12 questions, the focus shifted towards exploring the informants’ motivations, reasons and feelings towards consuming meat substitutes in general and edible insects as an alternative source of protein, in relation to their environmental identity. Towards the end of the interviews, the informants were asked if they wanted to add any further comments. Considering that a semi-structured interview technique was used, follow-up questions were asked, which are not included in the predetermined questions, in order to help the informants to reflect more freely.

Quality of data

The accuracy of the findings cannot be fully guaranteed by the authors, although four strategies have been implemented in order to ensure the trustworthiness and level of objectivity of this qualitative research: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Collis and Hussey, 2014). When the informants’ opinions are truthfully and objectively presented, in other terms when the truth is represented, the research is believed to be credible (Shenton, 2004). During the interviews, the informants were informed that their names would be changed when the empirical findings were discussed. The reason behind using anonymous names was to encourage the informants to speak freely and truthfully, as the risk of being identified by the reader decreases (Shenton, 2004). During the process of analyzing data, the authors individually studied the collected data before comparing results and interpretations together, in order to avoid being affected by each other’s thoughts and opinions.
While credibility focuses on internal validity, transferability focuses on external validity and the fact that the findings of this study should be transferable to other researchers or situations (Shenton, 2004). Although the main focus of this research is how consumers with an environmental identity evaluate edible insects as a meat substitute, the authors believe that the empirical findings can be generalized for industries in Western societies that deal with products that substitute animalistic products such as meat, milk, cheese and yoghurt. However, considering that a qualitative research indicate smaller sample sizes, it could be misleading to generalize the findings.
Dependability address the issue of reliability, and focuses on whether the research can be repeated by an external party, in other terms generate similar findings and conclusions if testing the collected data (Collis and Hussey, 2014).
Lastly, confirmability covers the effects that human factors and perception can have on objectivity. A research is argued to be confirmable when the presentation of the collected data and conclusions are unbiased. The risk that human factors influenced this study exists, but it was minimized considering the fact that it was performed by two authors instead of one (Shenton, 2004).

Empirical findings and Analysis

This chapter will present the empirical findings extracted from the conducted interviews. The findings are analyzed using a qualitative analyzing technique and supported by using central theories presented in chapter 2. The informants are presented in table 1, and their collected thoughts will be presented through various themes, which were identified by the investigation of key interpretations and recurring comments from the informants.

“Me, myself and my environmental concerns”

This section will present how the informants evaluate their identity construction, and how their identity construction and environmental concerns affect their consumption practices. Considering that postmodern consumers identify themselves based on what they consume (Bauman, 2000), identity is a central concept to take into consideration when investigating motivations, reasons and actions taken by the informants.
The informants’ willingness to care for the environment became noticeable throughout all the conducted interviews, which means that environmental concerns are highly valued. However, several informants point out that their environmental identity only constitutes as one, among multiple, components of their identity construction. This finding is supported by the study conducted by Klasson (2017), who describes that the postmodern society causes ambivalence and uncertainty of what identity to choose, and as a consequence, individuals often adopt multiple identities (Klasson, 2017). Julia describes how her identity is constructed out of several components, not only her environmental concerns:
Julia: “My environmental concerns are a part of who I am, but I would not say that it is who I am.”
The informants discuss that their environmental concerns origin from a sense of personal responsibility towards the world and future generations. Ingrid describes an overwhelming feeling combined with anxiety towards this responsibility, and her concerns were commonly shared with several informants. A bad conscience often arises when Ingrid, who identify as flexitarian, consumes meat, in which she explains by confirming her awareness of its environmental damage. The sense of anxiety may be explained by Giddens (1998), who states that consumption practices need to be consistent with the identity construction and if not, a feeling of existential questioning could arise, which often generate anxiety. Therefore, it can be argued that the informants aim to be truthful to their environmental identity and to take care of the personal responsibility they feel towards the world and future generations. However, the magnitude of the responsibility and an attached social pressure may be perceived as overwhelming, which can lead to the anxiety that Ingrid and the other informants discussed. Ingrid describes her feelings in the following statement:
Ingrid: “Sometimes, the responsibility [of caring about the environment] is very overwhelming, and it is a lot of anxiety attached to it for me. I know how bad it is for the environment to eat meat, so I do not want to do it. I want to become better. But sometimes it just happens, and it makes me feel so bad.”
Sandra explains how her identity as a vegetarian is founded in her willingness to do the ‘right’ thing, and the majority of the informants express similar implications. Patrick argues that it exists a demand from society and our social surroundings that one should take a stance towards environmental concerns. His feeling is consistent with Beck (2000) and Giddens (1999), who explain that individuals in today’s society are expected to take a stance in societal concerns, and take responsibility for their action and choices. Patrick explains that his choice to identify as a flexitarian becomes an easy solution for him in order to meet those demands and to do the ‘right’ thing:
Patrick: “I feel like society demands you to take a stance towards environmental issues (…) it does not feel right to eat meat and to become a flexitarian is an easy solution to actually do something good for the environment.”
When Sandra and Patrick, together with three other informants, describe how their choice to identify as vegetarians and flexitarians partly origins from a desire to do the ‘right’ thing, Tajfel’s (1972) concept of stereotyping and Beck’s (1998) theory of risk society can assist in understanding the underlying reasons. By using stereotyping, which means categorizing people with similar qualities, individuals can more easily find a social context that is consistent with how they wish to identify themselves (Tajfel, 1972), which decrease the risk of choosing the ‘wrong’ social context (Beck, 1998). It can therefore be argued that the informants identify as vegetarians and flexitarians because they assume that it automatically place them into a category of people that protect, rather than harm, the environment. This argument is strengthened when Harold states that he identifies himself as a vegetarian because it symbolizes that he cares about the environment:
Harold: “I like calling myself a vegetarian because it tells others that you care for the environment, which feels good.”
The majority of informants express that their environmental identity affect how they consume to some extent, but not always. Oliver and Ingrid state that convenience, other interests and income sometimes oppose their willingness to consume ‘green’. Due to the choice of becoming vegetarian and flexitarian, all the informants try to consume ‘green’ food and eat less meat, but argue that they fail to engage in green consumerism in some other areas. Oliver explains that he often travels by flight and expresses that he is aware of the environmental damage the flight cause. This implies that Oliver’s consumption practices are not only guided by his environmental concerns, which can also be grounded in the idea that people possess multiple identities (Klasson, 2017) that are multilayered and modifying (Mittal, 2006; Belk, 1988; Mittal, 2006; Shankar and Fitchett, 2002). Oliver states that:
Oliver: “I try to eat less meat, and consume green when it comes to food. But I am far from environmentally friendly in other areas.. Like for example, I travel by flight a lot, even though I know it is really bad for the environment.”
What can be examined from this section is that the main motives for the informants’ choice to become vegetarians or flexitarians are their environmental concerns, a sense of personal responsibility towards the world as well as the willingness to do the ‘right’ thing. It is observed that the informants consume green and care for the environment – to a certain extent. However, to consume truthfully in regards to food is more vital compared to other areas, such as traveling. The complexity of identity, with its multilayered and modifying function (Mittal, 2006; Belk, 1988; Mittal, 2006; Shankar and Fitchett, 2002), creates an inconsistency in how the informants choose to consume in relation to their environmental identity. To conclude, it can be observed that the environmental identity constitutes only a limited part of the identity, and can therefore only affect a limited part of individuals’ consumption practices.

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Table of Contents
1. Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Problem formulation and research question
1.3 Purpose
1.4 Delimitations
1.5 Definitions
2 Frame of Reference
2.1 Postmodernity: the current state of society
2.2 To construct an identity
2.3 Green consumerism
2.4 Adopting an environmental identity
3 Methodology
3.1 Literature search
3.2 Research philosophy
3.3 Research approach
3.4 Research strategy
3.5 Methods for Data Collection
3.6 Sampling Method
3.7 Data analysis
3.8 Quality of data
4 Empirical findings and Analysis
4.1 “Me, myself and my environmental concerns”
4.2 “Insects are an Asian thing, right? It sounds foreign but interesting”
4.3 “Insects are neither meat nor vegetarian”
4.4 “A product is a meat substitute if it reminds me of meat”
4.5 “If edible insects are not meat substitutes – what the flying f*ck is it?”
4.6 “I would be more motivated to consume insects if they are ‘green’”
4.7 “We want proofs and facts”
5 Conclusion and Discussion
5.1 Conclusion
5.2 Discussion
5.3 Limitations
5.4 Contributions and Suggestions for Further Research
6 Reference List
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