Communication, Consumers, and Citizens: Revisiting the Politics of Consumption

Communication, Consumers, and Citizens: Revisiting the Politics of Consumption, Dhavan V. Shah, Lewis Friedland, Chris Wells, Young Mie Kim, and Hernando Rojas, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November 2012.



The year 2011 was defined by the intersection of politics and economics: the Wisconsin protests, the Occupy Movement, anti-austerity demonstrations, the Buffett Rule, and so on. These events drew attention to the role of politics in the erosion of labor power, the rise of inequality, and the excesses of overconsumption. Moving beyond periodic and dutiful action directed at an increasingly unresponsive government, citizens tested the boundaries of what we consider civic engagement by embracing personalized forms of “lifestyle politics” enacted in everyday life and often directed at the market. These issues are the focus of this volume, which we divide into four sections. The first section attempts both to situate consumption in politics as a contemporary phenomenon and to view it through a wider historical lens. The second section advances the notion of sustainable citizenship at the individual/group level and the societal/institutional level, and understands consumption as socially situated and structured. Extending this thinking, the third section explores various forms of conscious consumption and relates them to emerging modes of activism and engagement. The fourth section questions assumptions about the effectiveness of the citizenconsumer and the underlying value of political consumerism and conscious consumption. We conclude by distilling six core themes from this collection for future work.