Part 1 - Summary
This book assesses the consumption problem both from a sociological and philosophical perspective by linking with some recent thinking in these disciplines, while adding to this by exploring consumption’s interactions with production and, crucially, the supply chains (or ‘webs’) that link consumption and production. Consumption is at the heart of contemporary capitalism, meaning that any viable alternative to capitalism will need to focus on developing a convincing argument as to how we reform and/or manage people’s relationship to their ‘stuff’. The capitalist system contains cracks and openings that, according to Gibson-Graham (2006), have the potential to lead to different kinds of being, which may provide us with the opportunity to glimpse and stimulate more progressive ways of relating to the products that we use. This would represent an attenuated or ‘tempered capitalism’.
The growth paradigm has become deeply engrained into people’s mindsets. Growth is a natural process, which in nature precedes stability and decay. Degrowth and post-growth economy imaginings are thus all based on the re-imagined relationship between humanity and nature. A number of theorisations exist as to what a degrowth world economy would look like. Detaching ourselves from the growth ideology fundamentally reshapes the very notion of consumption towards a more eco-centric, less materialistic, non-alienating view where the relationships between humans, their needs and the objects that fulfil them are transformed. It has been argued that one of the causes of premature disposal of things lies in the inability of those things to grow with us and this includes our growing inability to adapt those things to our lives as producers take control. Consumers were thus not born wasteful, they were trained to be so by a handful of industries seeking market domination.
Telling people to stop consuming will not work. More realistic, then, to encourage a more self-aware consumer and more ‘reflexive’ consumption practices encouraging consumers to think about themselves as part of a broader system. The literature presents us with two possible models, to which we add a third:
- Transition through regulation, based on public consensus;
- Radical transition through niche accumulation and system collapse, or;
- Transition through a reconfiguration phase of consuming fewer, higher quality products and services, combined with a subsequent and gradual culture change.
Option one, while promising, is only feasible to a limited extent and only in certain social and political environments. Option two presents the most radical approach, but leaves most consumers at the mercy of a system collapse at some point in the future. It is therefore proposed that – following Geels et al. (2015) – a third option is introduced, involving a continuation of consumer culture, but at a much-reduced level, through a shift from consuming quantity to consuming quality.