Story of Stuff

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The Story of Stuff is a fun, clear, lively, and timely treatment of the materials economy that shows how the real industrial economy intersects with sustainability. Although the economy appears to undermine sustainability, it works for the burgeoning global middle classes, for now, as the middle class increases consumption, the demand that elicits production. This theme is central. I test marketed the book and others among students in various settings, discovering that students preferred The Story of Stuff and learned from studying the book.

The core concept, the materials economy, is not a formal term derived from economic theory. The materials cycle comes close to the concept of supply chains, however. Annie may have invented the term to suit her purpose here: more trees and less stuff (read, waste). I have used the cycle process model effectively in my public policy course. View the logo and click on the ovals to see this process framework in action. The material cycle model is a comprehensible, dynamic, and flexible container.

The book treats the economy as a grounded and concrete phenomenon rather than an abstract and detached set of theories. The actual economy provides the substance of ENST305, not the abstracted theories such as neoclassical economics, which will be treated immediately after The Story of Stuff, as displayed in the schedule. The strategic move, from Karl Polanyi: examine the substantive economy, not formal economic theory per se. See my overview of Karl Polanyi as social ecology.

The critique of ecological economics at the macro-level, or big picture level, is squarely upon the growth in physical scale of the economy. Note that growth is distinct from development, an improvement in quality or the actualization of potential. But expansion and intrusion is what stuff is all about: stuff is tangible and physical. Note that the book does not really treat the service economy, but focuses on the world of commodities that are products...
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