Consuming Less as a Rational Choice: A Review of Applied Social Exchange Theory in Topical Research on Sustainable Consumption


  • Manuel Jakab Department of Security Research and Crisis Management, Faculty of Psychotherapy Science, Sigmund Freud University, Vienna



Along with a fast expansion in volume, research on sustainable consumption is confounded with inconsistencies in definitions and terminology. For a better categorization and thus utilization of the knowledge already accumulated in the field, a synthetic approach outlining conceptual differences and commonalities within the multitude of research appears useful. Contributing to this conceptual approach, this article pursues the role of the paradigm of rational choice in topical (2019 – 2023) research on sustainable consumption. By way of a theory-based review, the particular areas of sustainable consumption research in which social exchange is applied are scrutinized, highlighting specific structures and inclinations in terms of the history of ideas. The findings point out a preference towards the sociological take on social exchange theory (as opposed to the socio-psychological) and demonstrate that the application of social exchange theory is significant particular in research on sharing economy. On the other hand, no application of social exchange theory in areas of sustainable consumption like minimalism, downshifting or voluntary simplicity could be documented.


sustainable consumption, sharing economy, social exchange theory


Download data is not yet available.


Arnould, E. (2020). Ontography and Sustainable Consumption. Advances in Consumer Research Volume 48.

Arnould, E. J. (2022). Ontology and circulation: towards an eco-economy of persons. Journal of Marketing Management, 38(1-2), 71-97.

Bahishti, A. A. (2021). The importance of review articles & its prospects in scholarly literature. Extensive Reviews, 1(1), 1-6.

Barbeta-Viñas, M. (2022). Guilt and differentiation in social discourses on “green” consumption in Spain. Consumption Markets & Culture, 1-23.

Best, B., Christ, M., Santarius, T., & Wiese, F. (2022). Exploring energy sufficiency: New challenges and options in times of crisis. Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis, 31/2: 11–17

Blau, P. (2017). Exchange and power in social life. Routledge.

Boateng, H., Kosiba, J. P. B., & Okoe, A. F. (2019). Determinants of consumers’ participation in the sharing economy: A social exchange perspective within an emerging economy context. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.

Boström, M. (2021). Social relations and challenges to consuming less in a mass consumption society. Sociologisk forskning, 58(4), 383-406.

Bryła, P., Chatterjee, S., & Ciabiada-Bryła, B. (2022). The Impact of Social Media Marketing on Consumer Engagement in Sustainable Consumption: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(24), 16637.

Buchan, N. R., Croson, R. T., & Dawes, R. M. (2002). Swift neighbors and persistent strangers: A cross-cultural investigation of trust and reciprocity in social exchange. American journal of sociology, 108(1), 168-206.

Bui, T. D., Lim, M. K., Sujanto, R. Y., Ongkowidjaja, M., & Tseng, M. L. (2022). Building a Hierarchical Sustainable Consumption Behavior Model in Qualitative Information: Consumer Behavior Influences on Social Impacts and Environmental Responses. Sustainability, 14(16), 9877.

Carrigan, M., Magrizos, S., Lazell, J., & Kostopoulos, I. (2020). Fostering sustainability through technology-mediated interactions: Conviviality and reciprocity in the sharing economy. Information Technology & People 33 (3).

Cherrier, H., & Lee, M. S. (Eds.). (2022). Anti-Consumption: Exploring the Opposition to Consumer Culture. Taylor & Francis.

Chuah, S. H. W., Tseng, M. L., Wu, K. J., & Cheng, C. F. (2021). Factors influencing the adoption of sharing economy in B2B context in China: Findings from PLS-SEM and fsQCA. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 175, 105892.

Collewaert, V., Vanacker, T., Anseel, F., & Bourgois, D. (2021). The sandwich game: Founder-CEOs and forecasting as impression management. Journal of Business Venturing, 36(1), 106075.

Cook, K. S., & Hahn, M. (2021). Social exchange theory: current status and future directions. Theoretical Sociology, 179-205.

Coverdale, J., Seritan, A. L., & Brenner, A. M. (2022). Calling to Action Our Personal Behaviors in Mitigating Climate Change. Academic Psychiatry, 1-4.

Davlembayeva, D., Papagiannidis, S., & Alamanos, E. (2020). Sharing economy: Studying the social and psychological factors and the outcomes of social exchange. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 158, 120143.

Diekmann, A. (2022). Rational choice sociology: Heuristic potential, applications, and limitations. In: Handbook of Sociological Science (pp. 100-119). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Eckhardt, G. M., Varman, R., & Dholakia, N. (2018). Ideology and critical marketing studies. In: The routledge companion to critical marketing (pp. 306-318). Routledge.

Emerson, R. M. (1976). Social Exchange Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 335–362.

Enayat, T., Ardebili, M. M., Kivi, R. R., Amjadi, B., & Jamali, Y. (2022). A Computational Approach to Homans Social Exchange Theory. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 597, 127263.

Foy, S. L., Schleifer, C., & Tiryakian, E. A. (2018). The rise of rational choice theory as a scientific/intellectual movement in sociology. The American Sociologist, 49(1), 16-36.

Hechter, M. (2019). The future of rational choice theory and its relationships to quantitative macro-sociological research. In: Rational Choice Theory and Large-Scale Data Analysis (pp. 281-290). Routledge.

Homans, G. C. (1961). Social behavior: Its elementary forms. New York: Harcourt

Hook, J. N., Hodge, A. S., Zhang, H., Van Tongeren, D. R., & Davis, D. E. (2021). Minimalism, voluntary simplicity, and well-being: A systematic review of the empirical literature. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-12.

Hulland, J. (2020). Conceptual review papers: revisiting existing research to develop and refine theory. AMS Review, 10(1-2), 27-35.

Husin, A., Susanti, R., & Arifin, Z. (2022). Housewives' Knowledge on Energy Conservervation. Hong Kong Journal of Social Sciences No. 59.

Jackson, T. (2005). Live better by consuming less?: Is there a “double dividend” in sustainable consumption?. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 9(1‐2), 19-36.

Jakab, M. (2022). Teaching voluntary simplicity and anti-consumption: A basic framework providing orientation for the work with recent research. Environment & Ecosystem Science (EES), 5(1), 42-50.

Jerneck, A., & Olsson, L. (2020). Theoretical and methodological pluralism in sustainability science. In Framing in Sustainability Science (pp. 17-33). Springer, Singapore.

Jiang, S., & Pu, R. (2021). Reconceptualizing and modeling sustainable consumption behavior: A synthesis of qualitative evidence from online education industry. Innovative Marketing, 17(3), 144.

Jin, J., Li, Y., Zhong, X., & Zhai, L. (2015). Why users contribute knowledge to online communities: An empirical study of an online social Q&A community. Information & management, 52(7), 840-849.

Johnston, T. C., & Burton, J. B. (2003). Voluntary simplicity: Definitions and dimensions. Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, 7(1), 19-36.

Joseph, O. O. (2020). Pro-Environmental Consumer Behavior: A Critical Review of Literature. International Journal of Business and Management, 15(1).

Kasper, D. (2021). Mapping the Territory. In: Beyond the Knowledge Crisis (pp. 75-104). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Khalek, S. A., & Chakraborty, A. (2023). Access or collaboration? A typology of sharing economy. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 186, 122121.

Koskenniemi, A. (2021). Deviant consumption meets consumption-as-usual: The construction of deviance and normality within consumer research. Journal of Consumer Culture, 21(4), 827-847.

Küper, I., & Edinger-Schons, L. M. (2020). Is sharing up for sale? Monetary exchanges in the sharing economy. Journal of Business Research, 121, 223-234.

Lai, P. H., Chuang, S. T., Zhang, M. C., & Nepal, S. K. (2020). The non-profit sharing economy from a social exchange theory perspective: A case from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in Taiwan. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 28(12), 1970-1987.

Liao, H., Shaw, K., & Che, Z. (2021). The perspective of exchange theory from the perspective of social psychology. Psychiatria Danubina, 33 (suppl 6), 229-0.

Makri, K., Schlegelmilch, B. B., Mai, R., & Dinhof, K. (2020). What we know about anticonsumption: An attempt to nail jelly to the wall. Psychology & Marketing, 37(2), 177-215.

Markauskaitė, R., & Rūtelionė, A. (2022). Causes of Consumer Materialistic and Green Value Conflict: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability, 14(9), 5021.

Martin-Woodhead, A. (2021). Limited, considered and sustainable consumption: The (non) consumption practices of UK minimalists. Journal of Consumer Culture, Volume 22, Issue 4

Meijers, M. H., Scholz, C., Torfadóttir, R., Wonneberger, A., & Markov, M. (2022). Learning from the COVID-19 pandemic to combat climate change: comparing drivers of individual action in global crises. Journal of environmental studies and sciences, 12(2), 272-282.

Middlemiss, L., Isenhour, C., & Martiskainen, M. (2019). Introduction: Power, politics, and (un) sustainable consumption. In: Power and politics in sustainable consumption research and practice (pp. 1-19). Routledge.

Naijuan, S., & Guoqing, G. (2016). Customer commitment, self-enhancement and customer citizenship behavior: driving mechanism and moderating effect from the perspective of social exchange theory. Management Review, 28(12), 187.

Oktamovna, S. Z., & Nasriyevich, G. N. (2021). Terminology as a structural element of the language. Asian Journal of Multidimensional Research, 10(9), 724-731.

Olsson, L., & Jerneck, A. (2018). Social fields and natural systems. Ecology and Society, 23(3).

Pangarkar, A., Shukla, P., & Charles, R. (2021). Minimalism in consumption: A typology and brand engagement strategies. Journal of business research, 127, 167-178.

Partina, A., Harsono, M., Sawitri, H., & Haryono, T. (2019). The predictor of organizational citizenship behaviour using social exchange theory. Internafional Journal of Scienfific and Research Publicafions, 9(5), 514-518.

Paul, J., Lim, W. M., O’Cass, A., Hao, A. W., & Bresciani, S. (2021). Scientific procedures and rationales for systematic literature reviews (SPAR‐4‐SLR). International Journal of Consumer Studies, 45(4), O1-O16.

Post, C., Sarala, R., Gatrell, C., & Prescott, J. E. (2020). Advancing theory with review articles. Journal of Management Studies, 57(2), 351-376.

Rebouças, R., & Soares, A. M. (2020). Voluntary simplicity: A literature review and research agenda. International Journal of Consumer Studies.

Rudmin, F. W. & W. E. Kilbourne. (1996). The meaning and morality of voluntary simplicity: history and hypothesis on deliberately denied materialism. In: Belk, R. W., Dholakia, N., & Venkatesh, A. Consumption and marketing. Macro Dimensions. Cincinnatti: South-Western College.

Rusu, M. S. (2020). Street Names through Sociological Lenses. Part I: Functionalism and Conflict Theory. Social Change Review, 18(Winter), 144-176.

Sands, S., Ferraro, C., Campbell, C., Kietzmann, J., & Andonopoulos, V. V. (2020). Who shares? Profiling consumers in the sharing economy. Australasian Marketing Journal (AMJ), 28(3), 22-33.

Schaupp, S. (2022). Review of: Matthew T. Huber (2022) Climate Change as Class War. Building Socialism on a Warming Planet. Global Labour Journal, 13(3).

Shah, S. H. A., Cheema, S., Al-Ghazali, B. M., Ali, M., & Rafiq, N. (2021). Perceived corporate social responsibility and pro-environmental behaviors: The role of organizational identification and coworker pro-environmental advocacy. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 28(1), 366-377.

Shaw, D., & Moraes, C. (2009). Voluntary simplicity: an exploration of market interactions. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33(2), 215-223.

Thibaut, J. W., Kelley, H. (1959). The Social Psychology of Groups. New York: Routledge

Thomas, R. W., Murfield, M. L. U., & Ellram, L. M. (2022). Leveraging sustainable supply chain information to alter last-mile delivery consumption: A social exchange perspective. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 34, 285-299.

Tian, H., & Liu, X. (2022). Pro-Environmental Behavior Research: Theoretical Progress and Future Directions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(11), 6721.

Torro, O., Pirkkalainen, H., & Li, H. (2022). Media synchronicity in organizational social exchange. Information Technology & People, 35(8), 162-180.

Tóth, Z., Nemkova, E., Hizsák, G., & Naudé, P. (2022). Social capital creation on professional sharing economy platforms: The problems of rating dependency and the non-transferability of social capital. Journal of Business Research, 144, 450-460.

Tranfield, D., Denyer, D., & Smart, P. (2003). Towards a methodology for developing evidence‐informed management knowledge by means of systematic review. British journal of management, 14(3), 207-222.

Tsai, Y. T., Yu, C. H., & Boonprakob, R. (2021). Assessing carpooling drivers and barriers: Evidence from Bangkok, Thailand. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 82, 84-95.

Wallace, R.A., & Wolf, A. (1995). Contemporary sociological theory. Continuing the classical tradition. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Wang, X., Yang, M., Park, K., Um, K. H., & Kang, M. (2022). Social Sustainability of a Firm: Orientation, Practices, and Performances. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(20), 13391.

Wang, Y., Wu, H., Xia, C., & Lu, N. (2020). Impact of the price of gifts from patients on physicians’ service quality in online consultations: Empirical study based on social exchange theory. Journal of medical Internet research, 22(5), e15685.

Wang, Y., Xiang, D., Yang, Z., & Ma, S. S. (2019). Unraveling customer sustainable consumption behaviors in sharing economy: A socio-economic approach based on social exchange theory. Journal of cleaner production, 208, 869-879.

Wang, J., & Yu, X. (2021). The Driving Path of Customer Sustainable Consumption Behaviors in the Context of the Sharing Economy—Based on the Interaction Effect of Customer Signal, Service Provider Signal, and Platform Signal. Sustainability 13(7).

Xiang, D., Jiao, G., Sun, B., Peng, C., & Ran, Y. (2022). Prosumer-to-customer exchange in the sharing economy: Evidence from the P2P accommodation context. Journal of Business Research, 145, 426-441.

Xiao, Y., & Watson, M. (2019). Guidance on conducting a systematic literature review. Journal of planning education and research, 39(1), 93-112.






Review Article

How to Cite

M. Jakab, “Consuming Less as a Rational Choice: A Review of Applied Social Exchange Theory in Topical Research on Sustainable Consumption”, Extsv. Rev., vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 38–47, Dec. 2023.