How are carbon-light holidays possible? A social practice analysis of no-flight holidays

  • Adam Jones

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis aims to contribute new knowledge in support of policy formation and social
changes required to meet UK climate change targets of net-zero emissions by 2050. As flying
is the most polluting method of transport per passenger kilometre travelled, and the
fastest-growing source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas, this thesis argues that responding
to the issues posed by climate change necessitates a substantial reduction in aviation related
climate degradation. This research investigates the factors influencing no-flight
holidays, with the aim of facilitating a transition to more environmentally sustainable

A series of two interviews were conducted with seven research participants – all of whom
were carriers of the social practice of no-flight holidays. Participant recollections of their
abandoning flight-centred holidays and recruitment to no-flight holidays were abductively
analysed through a Social Practice Theoretical lens, to answer the research questions, of
how no-flight holidays can be understood as a social practice in order to understand the
complexities of holidaying more sustainably, and how these understandings can engender
policy and social change suggestions.

Analysis highlighted that abandoning flight-centred holidays was facilitated by a sense of
personal responsibility for the climate - reinforced by an appreciation of the relative scale of
flying’s climate impact, a range of adjacent climate-responsible practices, and negative
experiences of flying. No-flight holiday practice, in turn, was supported by positive meanings
associated with freedom from the everyday, and opportunities for family development.
Contributions to policy and social change suggestions drawn from these insights centred
around re-crafting the meaning of no-flight holidays to foreground these positive
associations, exploiting the interlocking between related sustainable practices to facilitate
spill-over opportunities for abandoning flight-centred holidays and support a new social
convention around flying as socially unacceptable, and substituting the flight for an
appropriate more sustainable transport mode.

Unique contributions to knowledge, methodology and theory, over and above answering
the stated research questions include: a supported shift in focus away from the attitude
behaviour gap in understanding behaviour change; confirmation of the appropriateness of
rich serial interviews for studying complex social practices; and an expansion of the
application of Social Practice Theory beyond analysis of everyday practices to those
involving conscious consumption and significant environmental impacts. The thesis
concludes with a reflection on the place of the current research within a post-COVID-19
travel sector.
Date of AwardSep 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorMatthew Adams (Supervisor) & Lesley Murray (Supervisor)


  • Social Practice Theory
  • holidaying sustainably
  • abandonment
  • recruitment
  • flying
  • no-flight holidays

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