BEYOND THE BOYCOTT Anti-consumerism, cultural change and the limits of reflexivity
This article focuses on the possibilities and limitations of reflexivity in contemporary anti-consumerism activist discourse. Opening by noting that much contemporary anti-consumerist discourse has a fraught relationship with what was once termed ‘identity politics’, in that it often attempts to reject or negotiate with an idea of identity politics that is figured as existing in the recent past, the article suggests that one way of both understanding this preoccupation, and of broadening out the terms of discussion, is to consider the various ways in which these discourses can be understood as reflexive. The paper therefore attempts to identify how various anti-consumerist actions and texts, including Naomi Klein’s bestseller No Logo, Anita Roddick’s manual Take it Personally, the work of ‘culture jammers’ Adbusters, and Reverend Billy’s ‘Church of Stop Shopping’ position themselves reflexively in relation to social and cultural change. Its discourse analysis considers what these projects understand as ‘activism’, the ‘type’ or characteristics of (anti-) consumers being imagined, and the implied consequences for consumption and production. In doing so, it draws from a range of theories about or relating to ‘reflexivity’, in particular the work of Scott Lash, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler and Bruno Latour. Following Haraway and Butler in particular, the article argues for an emphasis on the relationality of reflexivity. The more ‘relational reflexivity’ demonstrated by anti-consumerist activity, the more likely it becomes to be open to making egalitarian alliances, the article argues, and this factor needs to be included alongside affective ‘mattering maps’ and ‘chains of equivalence’ when considering the problems and potential of anti-consumerist discourse. In doing so, the article attempts to shift the study of anti-consumerist activism further away from simple celebrations of its ‘resistance’ and towards opening up a cultural economy of anti-consumerism, one which is also critically engaged with furthering its politics. Keywords activism; anti-consumerism; consumer culture; cultural economy; reﬂexivity; relational reﬂexivity
Cultural Studies Vol. 19, No. 2 March 2005, pp. 227 Á/252 ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online – 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/09502380500077771
C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S
Then we had an idea. Maybe if we banged together the heads of all these activists and reconfigured the fragmented forces of identity politics into a new, empowered movement, maybe we could start winning again. (Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn 1999 p. xii) There is an economy in the interior of a person. We need to find a new kind of vivid privacy. (Bill Talen, better known as ‘Reverend Billy’ from The Church of Stop Shopping, 2003 p.83)
Contemporary anti-neoliberal activist politics has frequently deployed a rhetoric of anti-consumerism, in which socially exploitative and environmentally damaging power relations are highlighted by focusing campaigns on everyday consumer products. Such tactics have not been confined to ‘grassroots’ politics: the success of Naomi Klein’s bestselling book No Logo, for instance, brought the global flows linking consumer brands with sweatshop labour into a new level of popular visibility, as well as being itself enabled by the broader context of the movements for global justice which the book in part documents (Klein 2000, Shepard & Hayduk 2002, Notes from Nowhere 2003, Wainwright 2003, Mertes 2004). Yet, whilst the study of consumer culture has notoriously expanded in a multitude of interdisciplinary directions over the past two decades (Miller 1987, Featherstone 1991, Slater 1997, Nava et al. 1997, Lee 2000, Schor and Holt 2000) academic studies of, or indeed engagements with, anti-consumerist activism have been sparse....
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