Is consumption a social movement? investigative questions

This is written in the context of my summary of social movements literature


  1. how shall we understand politicized consumption theoretically. for example, Melucci requires that a movement be in fact “antagonistic towards the logic  of the rules governing the system” not just a conflictual “demand for inclusion”? [Melucci 1989: 39]
  2. can it  be a social movement? (we need to choose a definition)
  3. what can we say about it as a possible social movement? strengths? weaknesses?  possibilities? directions? (we look for themes and practices discussed in social movements theory and enter into praxis with this movement/activity) – obviously much of the literature above would call into question the objective of “changing corporate behavior”


Some options for question 1:


  • ecological materialism: builds an ecological society by analyzing throughputs, rebuilding life and production one material at a time, internalizing costs and creating “positive externalities”  (Naess, Elgin, Hawken, etc.) I think this is sort of the ecological version of socialism, rational organized solidary, etc. NOT driven by expressive purposes.
  • liberation theology/anti-imperialism/take the boot of the neck of the third world = protest the SOA and build Fair Trade shops… (a different –anti-sensual– constituency…)
  • cross-class co-production of [anti-capitalist] ideology:  Thompson & Coskuner-Balli [2007.08] have argued, in the context of consumer studies, that Community Supported Agriculture, one of the new institutions of the Local Food movement, differs from the “disembedded imagined communities” of “polit-brands” in its active coproduction of ideology, “emotional immediacy, confidence in outcomes, direct participatory involvement, and personal engagement” and, most importantly, collective ideological praxis, produced by farmers and consumers together. They identify the ideology as: “reconstituting rooted connections, engaging in practices of decommodification, working toward an artisan food culture.”
  • Gibson-Graham anti-capitalocentric community economic development can be organized around: needs, surplus, consumption, or expansion of the commons. while i think they are really on to something, particularly with surplus and commons, i am not sure that needs and consumption should be separate categories. also i think that the overlaps between these options are undertheorized (they would say “that’s ok; it’s ‘weak’ theory!”). i think this aspect of their analysis can be treated independently (as materialist) from their stuff on subjection/subjectivity (which echoes of the postmaterialist analyses).
  • does consumption challenge the mode of production of this system? we would have to theorize what that is… precarity? corporations? placeless economic decisionmaking?


  • building the submerged network, the “we” [Melucci]: we could evaluate consumption politics according to its contribution to this project. creating new spaces to nurture collective identity?
  • a reflexive everyday has the capacity to transform (reflexive modernity, lifepolitics, subpolitics): what are the criteria for this? how do we evaluate it?
  • a new idea? (E&J) and contributions to building the infrastructure for sharing it.
  • pleasure/play, bohemian sensuality: innovative antagonistic/ethical aesthetics (Binkley and what about the folks who wrote Your Money or Your Life ??? ) Is shopping play? does it use pleasure for transgression?
  • subversive hybrids: (haraway & butler) Is shopping performance? can it be a subversive performance? is it an important kind of hybridity (becoming/yearning/experimentation)?
  • “ethical consumerism” through “enchantment”: Thompson & Coskuner-Balli [2007.11], drawing heavily on Ritzer [1999], CSAs “glocalize” through processes of “implosion” (urban/rural, producers/consumers, market/gift, risk/reward), manipulating time (romanticized agricultural time) and space (farms as irreplaceable ecological places).