“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Theories of Consumerism

What an interesting experience. I'm revisiting material I taught an awful lot when I started out, about twenty plus years ago. It's on consumption and consumerism, for this class I'm giving to the effervescent Rice undergrads.

But now I have understanding about ecology, and I have greater understanding of philosophy. And some degree of comfort and certainty regarding that understanding.

So I'm in a position to evaluate and explore theories of consumerism a little better than I was a while back. Philosophy helps history!

For a kickoff, let's just say that I'm opposed to the narrative about the origins of consumerism that present it as a fall from a graceful state of nature. This fall is usually associated with the reflexivity of consumerism, because as we know (haha) loops and recursion are evil and bad and the whole purpose of human society is to get rid of these evil hydra-headed loops.

If like me you believe that consumerism's form is loop-like because people are loop-like (because things are loop-like, in general!) then you won't be able to cleave to this origin myth.

Also out of the window goes Veblen's emulative theory of consumption. Emulation may or may not happen but consumption is more deeply performative than emulative, because it is loop-like.

(For now, figure out why. I don't have time to explain!)

It also means that Bourdieu's theory of Kantian versus non-Kantian consumption is incorrect. All consumption is Kantian (reflexive, looped).

It also means that Appadurai's theory of commodity phases is incorrect. Commodities do not pass decisively through phases of use, obsolete use and ironic non-use, or to use the demotic, from schlock to kitsch to camp. All use has an ironic, "camp" flavor to it. This is because of the irreducible yet undecidable gap between being and appearing. Said the OOO philosopher.

Gee I should write a book about consumerism.


cgerrish said...

Ian's 'Cow Clicker' is the perfect laboratory experiment in consumerism.

Nick Guetti said...

Oh wow. Tim, is there any chance of this class being podcast? Hope hoapitty hope?

Oliver said...

What about Colin Campbell's Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism? I'd love to read you think about this favourite theory of mine.