University students' justification accounts for persistence in and desistance from car usage

Chijioke Uba

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Global CO2 emissions are on the increase worldwide and must be substantially reduced to abate the associated impact of global warming. The potential importance of their impact on the planet and future generations calls for immediate collective action.
Car usage is one of the major culprits on the sustainability agenda. For this reason, numerous environmental campaigns focus on convincing people to reduce car usage. Despite efforts, individuals are sticking to their cars. There is also growing evidence that this is not due to a lack of awareness about its impact on the environment. Therefore, the marginal impact of further awareness campaigns is unlikely to be substantial. Campaigns targeting reductions in car use will benefit from deeper level understandings of what motivates people to persist in using the car despite environmental awareness.
A number of studies focus on the motivations underlying car use. However, few have specifically examined the deeper level justifications and mechanisms that can free individuals from the environmental imperative to reduce car usage. In addition, little is known about how individuals who match pro-environmental cognitions with actual reductions in car use justify their behaviour vis-à-vis the normative imperatives that favour car use. This study is an attempt to address both gaps. I explore the accounting mechanisms that individuals employ to justify persistence in and desistance from use of the car. A theoretical framework underpinned by the neutralisation theory (Sykes & Matza, 1957) and affirmation techniques (Copes & Williams, 2007) is used to explore the linguistic accounts and mechanisms employed by a university student sample to justify and maintain continuous car use (persistence) and discontinued or reduced car use (desistance).
In the final analysis, the thesis discusses the implications of the research findings for interventions. The discussions of intervention, it is hoped, will enhance the possibility of creating a generation of (future) decision-makers that account for the potential detrimental impact of their transport decisions in their everyday life by aligning behaviour to expressed environmental (desistance-oriented) frames of reference.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Spence, Laura, Supervisor
  • Chatzidakis, Andreas, Supervisor
  • Liston Heyes, Catherine, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Aug 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • Car use
  • University students
  • Justifications
  • Neutralization Theory
  • Behaviour

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