Consumer Culture Research Paper

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The term consumer culture refers to the culture of the consumer society. It suggests that the representations (signs and images) and values of contemporary societies revolve around consumption: the purchase and enjoyment of goods for the construction of lifestyles. Advertising is important here in supplying a whole repertoire of images and representations of the good life that have become associated with particular commodities and brands. Consumer culture is driven by a modernist dynamic to expanding the range of goods and meanings on offer through the search for novelty, technological innovation, and the exotic. Many of the activities of everyday life are dominated by the consumption of goods and experiences in a variety of sites such as malls, city centers, department stores, theme parks, tourist resorts, heritage centers which offer a range of simulations, spectacular spaces, and sign play. These ‘dream worlds’ lead to the aestheticization of everyday life with the promise of new experiences, the loosening of emotional controls, and the exploration of desire. At the same time, consumer culture also provides resources for lifestyle construction and the promise of self-improvement and renewal: for reworking the body, identity, and relationships. Resources for repositioning the self within a consumer world in which the constant supply of new material goods, signs, and images make the task of classification, of ‘reading the signs,’ and locating people and things within stable status hierarchies, all the more difficult and compelling.

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1. History Of The Term

Production and consumption are often seen as fundamentals of social life. All societies produce some forms of material goods that are exchanged and consumed. Yet the identification, theorization, and naming of specific activities as production, exchange, or consumption is of relatively recent origin and takes its impetus from the emergence of the discipline of economics since the eighteenth century. Historically, the weight of interest has been upon production and exchange, revolving around questions of delineating the general forms and ‘laws’ seen as governing economic activities. From this perspective, consumption remains relatively unproblematic: people are seen as having ‘natural’ or infinitely expanding needs and desires for new and better goods. The object of all production is assumed to be consumption, yet why and how people consume, what they do with the consumer goods, given the premise of rational economic action, has only been of peripheral interest, as for example in allegedly marginal situations where people refuse to consume, or purchase and consume ‘irrationally.’ The sociological critique of economics which developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focused on the limits of rational action as the sole mode for explaining social life. Durkheim, Weber, Marx, Simmel, Pareto, Parsons, and Veblen analyzed the social and cultural parameters within which economic action was embedded and in various ways began to raise questions of consumption.

For many intellectuals and academics the topic of consumption remained intertwined with discussions of mass culture. The logic of capitalist mass production was seen as leading to a proliferation of standardized consumer goods, in which the aim of marketing was to generate uniformity of taste. Hence culture became produced by industrialized techniques and became a commodity like any other. The culture industries sought to manipulate and control consumption, which became associated with passivity and massification leading to the elimination of individuality and creativity. With the post-World War II society development of a fully-fledged consumer society, especially in the United States, Japan, and parts of Europe, the analyses and critiques of consumption gathered momentum. In the late 1950s and 1960s a number of works came into prominence which sought to diagnose and challenge the logic of the ‘affluent society’ with its perceived manipulative advertising, status seeking soulless conformism, and suppression of alternative definitions of the good life (Packard 1958, Galbraith 1961, Marcuse 1964).

The term consumer culture itself seems to have originated in the 1970s and gained impetus from the work of Ewen (1976) and Bell (1976) who added historical and analytical depth to these more polemical critiques. Yet the term had little impact on the majority of scholars at the time. In the field of sociology, the sub-fields of the economy, industry, class, and power had long dominated the center of the field. The general tendency in sociology was to operate with a reductive and epiphenomenal view of culture. Yet from the late 1970s onwards the study of culture, everyday life, gender, emotions, leisure, and consumption that had long been marginalized and confined to the periphery, now became seen as legitimate areas of study and began to move towards the center of the field. A key influence here in the 1980s was postmodernism which problematised the role of culture in social life with its focus on the instability and mixing of codes, the overproduction of sign and images, along with the effacement of the boundary between art and everyday life. For some critics postmodernism became seen as the ‘cultural logic’ of the consumer society, reinforcing the link between image saturation, consumption, and postmodern fragmentation (Jameson 1984, Baudrillard 1993).

Yet for others, the negative evaluation of consumer culture became more problematic. This was especially the case for those writing from within cultural studies, anthropology, and women’s studies, who sought to contest taste hierarchies which denigrated popular culture, and allegedly wasteful and mundane activities such as watching television soap operas or shopping. There was also an interest in examining the roots of modern consumption by historians and sociologists, who refused to see the consumer society as an unproblematic outgrowth of industrialization, rather for some a consumer revolution was seen to precede the revolution in production. The origins of consumer culture were traced back to eighteenth-century England (McKendrick et al. 1982), sixteenth-century Elizabethan England (McCracken 1988), and even linked to the rise of a romantic ethic (Campbell 1987). Questions about the particularity of Western consumer culture and the rise of consumer cultures in the big cities of Song and Ming Dynasty China and Tokagawa Japan have also begun to be raised (Myoshi and Harutoonian 1989), along with a greater sense of the longstanding historical centrality of East Asia in an interconnected global economy (Gunder Frank 1998).

In the 1990s the investigation of consumer culture became a part of the legitimate study of culture, as the importance of consumption in providing resources for identity construction and forms of sociability, both mainstream and oppositional, became acknowledged. In response to this more nuanced sense of the role of consumption, a spate of publications, textbooks, edited collections, monographs, and journal articles occurred, along with the founding of specialist journals on consumption. The term began to circulate more widely, gaining legitimacy and currency in the media through the efforts of cultural intermediaries who used the term in exhibitions, museums, and popular culture. Consumer culture has increasingly become a part of everyday language.

2. Material Goods, Cultural Classification, And The Body

A central feature of consumer culture is the proliferation of material goods. While people in all societies use material goods, their production, ex-change, and circulation are usually limited and surrounded by strong rules and rituals. There have been many instances of sumptuary laws that restrict the consumption of goods, such as the wearing of certain types of clothes (e.g., in the European Middle Ages silks, velvet, lace, bright colors were forbidden to peasants and other groups at the lower end of the social spectrum). The development of a culture around consumption is premised upon the removal of restrictions to access for goods, and the assumption that the capacity to pay the price in the market is the sole arbiter of use. In addition, it is based upon the assumption that the volume and significance of goods in circulation steadily increase, that mass produced goods become readily available and used in everyday practices to play a central role in the construction of narratives and identities. A key feature here is novelty: new goods are constantly being produced and sought after; something that increases the amount of in-formation in circulation that is necessary to make sense of new goods and integrate them into lifestyles. Hence advertising and background discussions aimed at helping to educate consumers into new tastes, take place within mass media such as newspapers, magazines, television, and radio programs.

The consumer society and its culture are often criticized for materialism: that people thirst after new goods to the neglect of the spiritual side of life. Yet it can be argued that the proliferation of goods has not been driven by a relentless empty materialism or greed, but has as much to do with cultural meaning systems. It is the relational matrix of the set of goods that is important, the ways in which goods are used not only to mark status divisions, but also to delineate the boundaries of social relationships and cement in-groups against out-groups. In effect goods can act as both doors and bridges to exclude or build relations with others. This suggests that consumer goods can be seen as resources for classifying the social world in which the logic of signs and cultural categories are used to create or reinforce social distinctions between groups. It also pointed to the process of investment in acquiring the skill to manipulate, read, and display the taxonomies of goods, dress, and demeanor: an approach which has its basis in anthropology (Douglas and Isherwood 1980, Bourdieu 1984).

Yet it can be argued that the classification system of consumer culture is inherently unstable, it has all sorts of gaps and ambiguities when compared to the relative closure of the primitive classifications described by Durkheim and Mauss, or the classical systems of science as described by Foucault. Here we can point to both the quest for innovation and novelty driven by the dynamics of the fashion system and the impact of new technologies that constantly disturb taxonomies. If goods have been seen from the point of view of economics as possessing both a use value (in terms of the purpose or need they fulfill) and an exchange value (monetary value), the progressive development of consumer culture complicates the picture. Advertising, it can be argued, attaches a further meaning to the commodity, a secondary ‘ersatz-use-value’ or ‘sign-value,’ which can occlude the original use (Adorno, Baudrillard). The replacement of use value by sign value implies that the meaning of goods becomes unstable, given the vast repertoire of themes and imagery (romance, exotica, beauty, adventure, the good life, excitement, fulfillment, solidarity, etc) which advertisers can draw upon.

There has been a general shift within the history of advertising away from direct description of the qualities of the product, to the use of more indirect associational imagery, in which meaning becomes elided and goods become associated with vague, but potent notions of lifestyle. The instabilities of the imagery associated with goods and the expansion of the media through which imagery can be created and recreated (especially with television, and the newer electronic forms such as the Internet) are seen by some as leading to an overproduction of signs and images. Such ‘culturally saturated societies,’ are often characterized as typically postmodern, with their fluid, depthless culture in which meaning refuses to stabilize or cohere (Baudrillard 1993, Jameson 1984). The oft-quoted archetypal example here of postmodern sign play is MTV (music television), with its endless series of pop videos in which images constantly change and flow into one another before the viewer can recover them into a coherent narrative.

Yet postmodern sign play constitutes just one end of the continuum of consumer culture activities. At the other end are highly formalized and ritualized consumption practices, in which every act and body movement, such as in eating, drinking, dancing, is heavily coded and carries weighty significance for the participants. The elaborately coded consumption of court societies would be a good example here. The latter example also helps us see that while consumption can entail watching the media in private, a good deal of consumption is more directly social; it involves others, people who come together in social practices in which there are varying demands for reciprocity. Consumer culture offers a large repertoire of resources for the construction and renewal of identities and presentation of the self as people move between public and private settings. Hence consumer culture pro-motes a world in which spatial and social mobility feature strongly: individuals are invited to imagine themselves operating in different settings, with different people and trying out different experiences. In an anonymous urban world, appearances become more important, and the possibility of ‘passing,’ of masking, reworking appearance, becomes both possible and acceptable. The values of personality, the development of charm, fascination, attractiveness become preferred to the more traditional virtues of character: integrity, duty, hard work, and thrift. Consumer culture through magazines, newspapers, and self-help books offers a mass of literature on self-improvement: how to reform the self, the body, sex life, and relationships. Here the body becomes more important as its ‘seen and seeing’ quality becomes central to the construction of what is heralded as an essentially embodied self. In the consumer culture view of the world the connection between body image and self-image is presented as a crucial one, with the positive benefits of ‘look good, feel good’ body maintenance health and fitness routines extolled. The body then is a key resource for identity building (Featherstone 1982).

At the same time we should not underestimate the ways in which individuality and conformism are both presented as necessary, something that requires a complex integrative structure to achieve the right balance for each situation. Consumer goods can be used as resources to cement collective relationships and renew the social order: wearing the right clothes and demeanor for each occasion, executing the correct performance, having appropriate accessories and material objects to hand which stamp the person as part of a status group. In Japan, arguably one of the most highly developed consumer societies, these aspects are very important, with consumer culture goods used to reinforce stable and lasting relationships (Clammer 1997). Department stores in Japan are big promoters of gift giving and provide elaborate services to help choose, package, and deliver the appropriate gift to cement relationships at work, in the family, between friends, and for a whole range of intermediaries and service providers. Consumer culture then, needs to be understood in its different social contexts, and we cannot assume that everything that occurs within Western modernity is immediately exportable around the world. Self-cultivation, reflexivity, and life projects, which are associated with consumer culture in the West, cannot be assumed to develop readily everywhere, and the instabilities and transgressive sign play associated with the ‘dream worlds’ of consumption cannot be assumed to be always as threatening to identities and the social order.

3. Spaces Of Consumption, Shopping, And Gender

A key aspect of consumer culture has been the development of new spaces for consumption, shop-ping, and entertainment: the arcades, city centers, and department stores which originated in the nineteenth century and the wider range of sites such as cinemas, cafes, resorts, leisure, and theme parks and malls that developed in the twentieth century. These were sites for purchasing goods and experiences, for looking at goods, for seeing and being seen, for enjoying the swirl of the crowd and the reading and misreading of the rich fabric of urban life with its vivid color advertisements, street decorations, and neon signs. They were relatively safe spaces that enabled women to venture out into public in greater numbers. The influential writings of Benjamin (1999) and Simmel (1997) provide a view of the experience of modernity as an essentially urban one, in which the crowds, movement, shocks, provided a bombardment of the senses with new impressions. The sensitivity to the heightened visual quality of modern life is captured in the flaneur, the stroller, who first appeared in the new consumer spaces of the nineteenth century to take in the fleeting fragmentary impressions of the crowds, the street, the buildings, and minutiae of the urban landscape.

If advertising was important in educating consumers into new tastes and desires, the department stores which appeared in Europe, the United States, and Japan in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century, can be seen as playing an equally important role in the formation of consumer culture. Unlike traditional shops, the department store was a space in which it was possible to walk around and examine goods on display. A key feature here was the opulence of the setting; department stores were designed spaces that sought to house the expanding range of cheap mass-produced consumer goods in novel ways. They were built on a massive scale with impressive architecture, layout, and decor as new public-private spaces that invited the consumer to stroll around, to stop and look, to take in the latest goods framed in exotic and luxurious display settings. They helped to expand the time frame of shopping so that it could become a pleasurable activity in itself, whether it be the actual purchase of goods or the activity of ‘window shopping,’ ‘just looking,’ and experiencing the ‘Hollywood set’ quality of the dis-plays. In addition, stores saw themselves as artistic and entertainment places where people could witness performances and spectacles, such as ballet, concerts, art exhibitions, and fashion shows. They also advertised themselves as communal centers, places where women could meet, engage in sociability, and even spend the whole day. It is no accident that department stores were referred to as ‘dream worlds,’ ‘fantasy palaces,’ and ‘cathedrals of consumption’ through their capacity to dominate the urban landscape and generate and legitimate a new consumer gaze and set of pleasures (Nava 1997, Williams 1982).

With the emergence of city centers as sites of consumption in the late nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries, women were able to move more freely in the new public and public-private spaces. Department stores and other shopping, entertainment, and expanding service sector sites such as cinemas, restaurants, hotels, cafes, also provided new opportunities for women’s employment. These were all places where emotional labor and presentational skills were important, and where women had to learn how to look and be looked at. Places of encounters with customers and members of the public, and of the viewing of the latest fashions and spectacular displays, provided new forms of knowledge and embodied competencies which could foster confidence and independence and generate a sense of an adventurous more exciting life. This formed the basis for a new definition of gender incorporating both a greater sense of self-control and expressivity. Something, which reached a peak in the 1920s with the flapper, the hedonistic young woman who had bobbed hair, wore a short skirt, and hyperactively danced to the jazz beat, which started to circulate around the world through the efforts of the nascent Hollywood film industry with movies such as Clara Bow’s It! Consumer culture started to globalize: in Japan for example the department store became a central institution and along with the cinema, helped to provide stimulus for the emergence of a new form of femininity, the moga girl, the modern girl who incorporated some of the elements of the flapper (Silverberg 1991)

The popularity of cinema going in the early decades of the twentieth century was important, as the majority of movie audiences were women. Like the department store the cinema was a legitimate place where women could come together in public relatively free from the surveillance of men. Like the department store it was a site that nurtured dreams and desires. It was also a powerful vehicle for fostering identification with others across gender, class, age, and ethnic lines along with the simulation of emotions. Something which has given rise to the view that the cinema helped educate women into new forms of public life which can be seen as having positive social implications. In effect the cinema led to the development of a cinematic public sphere, a key element in the formation of a women’s public sphere (Hansen 1991). Here a sense of public responsibility for the other could be seen as not merely developing through the alleged rational argument-ation of the (male) public sphere, but through emotional identifications and aesthetic experiences.

This positive view of the ways in which consumer culture spaces offering greater freedom and self-expression for women squares uneasily with accounts of consumption and mass culture as forms of deception, offering seductive and intoxicating pleasures. In accounts, such as those of the Frankfurt School, the fear was that mass culture and consumer culture amounted to forms of regression, with the dangers of loss of emotional control and the dissolution of the ego and social boundaries, and even the loss of civilized codes and sexual abandon (Huyssen 1986). This perspective misses the ways in which the decontrol of the emotions can take place in controlled ways, in which the swings between rigid rational control, and dangerous unbounded emotions are managed in subtler, playful, and less threatening ways. At the same time it can be argued that this capacity for emotional decontrol developed in men too, with men increasingly asked to cultivate their appearance and engage in bodily maintenance. In the second half of the twentieth century with the expansion of consumer culture, we have the emergence of new masculine ideals, the celebrities of leisure, sport, and the media who cultivate ‘personality’ (Featherstone 1995).

Shopping offers an interesting impure hybrid form: it mixes purposiveness, pleasure, and play. It is also often seen as offering the short-term pleasures of the purchase and conspicuous consumption, the vulgar tasteless pleasures of the new rich, in which high price is taken as the only guide to the real value of goods. Something which can be contrasted to the elaborately coded taste hierarchies and finely graded distinctions of the connoisseur or collector, who works hard to place the object in a context and assess its immanent value. Yet this perspective misses the ways in which particular forms of shopping can involve discrimination and careful judgment of taste. When people shop for clothes, for example, it can often entail the use of elaborately coded knowledge of the fashion system and the latest styles. Here the pleasures of knowledge, of manipulating the classification system come together with the pleasures of the body, with knowledge of one’s own bodily form and what suits it. A different form of pleasure from flicking through a mail order catalogue or surfing through the Internet’s ‘click and purchase’ shopping sites. Going out to shop puts the emphasis upon performance and enactment. Crucial here is the capacity for movement in spaces, for the sensual (especially visual) pleasures of physical movement, of handling and touching the goods. In the postwar era, malls and shopping centers have become important consumer sites through their capacity to offer secure, comfortable spaces for shopping, entertainment and sociability. While recently there has been some decline in the popularity of malls in the United States and a shift back to city centers, with the expansion of gated communities and globalization of divided, more dangerous cities, malls have expanded in many parts of the world. They have become important secure public-private spaces largely for the new middle classes, and particularly for women, to engage and experiment with consumer culture lifestyles and new forms of sociability.

4. Aestheticization Processes And The Cultural Intermediaries

Consumer culture can be seen as offering and legitimating a wide range of aesthetic experiences and bodily pleasures, something that has become designed into goods and consumer spaces by the growing ranks of cultural intermediaries. Yet this involves a highly differentiated set of practices with the rhythms of the day, the week, the year pulling different spaces of consumption into view. Buying a birthday present or gifts on holiday takes different types of judgment about price, taste, and aesthetics than the weekly supermarket visit or the purchase of a utility such as a washing machine. Consumer spaces include the ware-house form of hypermarket such as Wal-Mart, a de-aestheticized environment with minimal decoration and display setting, where cheapness and ‘value-for money,’ are everything. On the other hand, they also include sites in which every effort is made to give goods or a brand a quasi-sacred significance, as for example we find in the Nike Museum in Chicago, where trainers are displayed like art objects.

It is possible to envisage a continuum here, ranging from sites in which standardization of infrastructure and product are to the fore, where people are processed in and out rapidly, to sites where the consumer is invited to linger and have an experience, where consumption involves consuming the setting, the excitement, and aesthetic pleasures of discovery of novelty. At the standardized end we have McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, the phenomenon of the chain or brand that offers the simplification of complex consumer choices through its alleged reliability and value for money. Near this end are the ‘no place’ spaces of airports, chain hotels, and resorts, which also seek to offer the insecure customer, who has no time or inclination to browse or experiment, predictability and reliability.

At the other end we have the experiential sites that offer the ambience of ‘amazing spaces;’ sites where every effort is made to disguise standardization and uniformity and cultivate the exotic and the new. Here the pleasure can be both in the participation in the experience, or in anticipation through learning processes (browsing guidebooks, planning, imaginative constructions, and dreaming). Opening up exotic worlds through foreign travel and exploring art, counter-cultural, and bohemian experimental life-styles can involve not just excitement, but also the risk of identities and relationships. Yet, consumer culture seeks to market the risk and adventure too, both directly, through the ‘ultimate experience’ of high risk sports, such as paying large sums of money to be guided to the top of Mt. Everest by companies such as Mountain Madness or Adventure Consultants, and indirectly in all sorts of more controlled simulations such as ‘white knuckle rides.’

The provision of various blends of excitement and novelty along with standardization and the familiar is found in many consumer culture sites: ranging from theme parks, resorts, hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, malls, to museums and heritage sites. Consumer culture’s capacity to offer ‘dream worlds,’ reaches a new high point with theme parks such as Disneyland, where ‘imagineers’ have been able to produce hyper-real full-scale simulations of fairy tales, novels, and historical settings in which visitors are invited to ‘step inside the dream,’ and enjoy the movie set quality and full sensory immersion of another world. The retro bar, restaurant, shop, and even mall can work off this logic of seeking to construct spaces which provide a unique simulated experience. They work parasitically off the theme park, heritage park, and movie set design skills in constructing or reconstructing another world. They draw on content from a wide range of sources: from sacred tourist and historical sites, to the vulgarity of Las Vegas strip’s popular culture, to the vitality and creativity of bohemias and urban subcultural spaces. The logic here is more one of seeking to provide mass customization than mass consumption. The capacity built into the infrastructural building technologies and the media image technologies is increasingly one that permits not only standardization and reproduction, but also reformatting and re-creation. Today’s digital technologies can easily and rapidly spin out variations of codes, not just to provide the multimedia aspect of the experience; digitalization also becomes an integral element of the overall design process as architectural design itself increasingly works through virtual and simulated forms.

Consumer culture can be seen to work in a dual way through representations and sites. It draws on a wide range of representations to construct a culture around material goods, weaving a range of imagery and sign play to make commodities more enticing and exciting (advertising in its various forms being the key here) and provides a whole range of publicity material to educate consumers into enjoying new tastes. It also requires specific spaces to sell, display, and house goods and experiences (hypermarkets, department stores, malls, theme parks, resorts, etc.). Yet many of the sites become enriched with representations, with attention given to the decor and the setting to the extent that the act of purchase becomes an experience or that what one purchases or seeks out is an experience. If consumer culture has helped to swell the ranks of service sector occupations, then within this group design and associated cultural intermediaries have become increasingly salient. These groups, which include those members of the new middle classes working in the media, fashion, design, advertising, marketing, and the culture industries, are those who design the consumer culture representations, the informational aspect of consumer goods, and the experiential dimension of consumer sites.

These new cultural intermediaries have been referred to as ‘para-intellectuals’ given their admiration for artists and intellectuals and their constant search for knowledge of new and different lifestyles, sensations, and cultures (Bourdieu 1984, Featherstone 1991b). Their predisposition to explore the full range of global cultures, to seek out new styles, or recycle traditions, and search for the exotic through travel makes them have dispositions that could be labeled postmodern, through their aesthetic interest in playing with signs and cultures. Like artists and intellectuals they have an interest in travel and experimental bohemian lifestyles, to provide the stimulus for new ideas and themes to work into consumer culture imagery. Here, the city as the home of both the bohemian and the flaneur is seen as an important repository or database, in providing some of the dangerous and exciting places and personae with which to generate new cultures and lifestyles. The new cultural intermediaries have been in part responsible for the ‘democratization of bohemia,’ for feeding transgressive bohemian themes and images of the sexualized or fantasy city back into everyday consumer culture (Pels and Crebas 1987, Wilson 1998).

5. Globalization And The Limits Of Consumer Culture

It can be argued, that since the 1960s, the pace of the globalization of consumer culture has increased (Featherstone 1995). This has been particularly evident since the 1980s with the lowering of tariffs through GATT and the WTO, state deregulation, and the extension of the market. The collapse of the Soviet bloc furthered the extension of market capitalism. Now the consumer culture, however unevenly it has occurred within particular societies, has become the main provider of images of the good life. Globalization has also meant the rise of the information order, with spatially dispersed more elaborate production and consumption networks coordinated through the use of electronic communication. Consumer brands and imagery have become globalized, yet the vast majority of humanity, who cannot gain access to the loop, can only experience consumer culture on this level of images and dreams.

Yet what if the excluded were to become included? Would this mean that we run into the limits of the consumer society? Some argue that we have already reached the limit, that it is not merely resource depletion, but global warming and the disturbance of the planetary ecological balance that are occurring. If global ‘bads’ are seen to accompany the spread of global goods, then it is the unintended consequences of unregulated consumption, the accumulation of risks through the drive for increased technological innovation and scientific progress, which have become evident. The consumer society, then, is also a risk society and increasingly we are becoming conscious of the global scope of risk chains and networks. At the same time there would also seem to be the beginnings of the emergence of a global public sphere, where concerns about the pace of change, the exploitation of natural resources, the dangers of the biotechnological revolution, are starting to trouble some groups. Something akin to global public opinion is in the process of formation, as we saw in 1999 in Europe and the United States with the reaction against genetically modified food. The Internet with its speed, cheapness, and scope is becoming important here in providing consumers with the means for developing associations, networks, and campaigns that can raise questions about the need for more responsible forms of consumption.

Yet consumer culture is a long way from becoming a conserver culture. The dynamic of consumer culture is still one in which the search for new sensations and change dominate. Increased global flows of culture and the mobility of images through the media and information technology are accompanied by increased mobility of people, whether in pursuit of work or tourism. The demand for greater speed through information and transportation technologies has serious resource implications, along with new unintended risks and integral accidents. Serial and multiple lives in which people seek to experience intensified more exciting sensations of short duration, fit well with consumer culture. This seems to have been one of the unintended legacies of artists, intellectuals, and bohemians, however much the content of their work seeks to provide an urgent critique of consumer culture. Cultural modernism and postmodernism be-tray their origins in Western modernity and have yet to work through the dynamic of global post-humanism and a planetary humanism, in which the responsibility is to think the limits of ‘the new,’ the limits of mobility, movement, and the consumer. If there is something beyond the modern, then it implies thinking through new forms of consumption and developing a different relation to the object world of nature and technology.


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