Anti-consumerism refers to the socio-political movement against consumerism. Consumerism is a term used to describe the effects of the market economy on the individual. Concern over the treatment of consumers has spawned substantial activism, and the incorporation of consumer education into school curricula.

Anti-consumerist activism draws parallels with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism in its condemnation of modern corporations, or organizations that pursue an economic interest.

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of books (Naomi Klein's 2000 "No Logo" for example) and films ("e.g. The Corporation" & "Surplus"), popularizing an anti-corporate ideology to the public.

Opposition to economic materialism comes primarily from two sources: religion and social activism. Some religions assert materialism interferes with connection between the individual and the divine, or that it is inherently an immoral lifestyle. Some notable individuals, such as Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, and Mohandas Gandhi claimed spiritual inspiration led them to a simple lifestyle. Social activists believe materialism is connected to war, crime, and general social malaise. Fundamentally, their concern is that materialism is unable to offer a raison d'être for human existence.


Anti-consumerism is often associated with criticism of consumption, starting with Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen, but according to Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class" consumerism can be traced back to the first human civilizations. Consumerism can also denote economic policies associated with Keynesian economics, and, in an abstract sense, refer to the belief that the free choice of consumers should dictate the economic structure of a society (cf. producerism}.

Politics and society

Many anti-corporate activists believe the rise of large-business corporations poses a threat to the legitimate authority of nation states and the public sphere. Fact|date=November 2007 They feel corporations are invading people's privacy, manipulating politics and governments, and creating false needs in consumers. They state evidence such as invasive advertising adware, spam, telemarketing, massive corporate campaign contributions in democratic elections, interference in the policies of sovereign nation states (Ken Saro-Wiwa), and endless global news stories about corporate corruption (Martha Stewart and Enron, for example).

Anti-consumerism protesters point out that the main responsibility of a corporations is to answer only to shareholders, giving human rights and other issues almost no consideration. The management does have a primary responsibility to their shareholders, since any philanthropic activities that do not directly serve the business could be deemed to be a breach of trust. This sort of financial responsibility means that multi-national corporations will pursue strategies to intensify labor and reduce costs. For example, they will attempt to find low wage economies with laws which are conveniently lenient on human rights, the natural environment, trade union organization and so on (see, for example, Nike, Inc.).

An important contribution to the critique of consumerism has been made by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, arguing modern capitalism is governed by consumption rather than production, and the advertising techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle of consumption [] , leading to hyper consumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery.

Conspicuous consumption

Marx argued the capitalist economy leads to the fetishization and devaluing the worth of goods and services and instead focusing on its market price. In many critical contexts, the term describes the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially with commercial brand names and obvious status-enhancing appeal, e.g. an expensive automobile or jewelry. It is a pejorative term which most people deny, having some more specific excuse or rationalization for consumption other than the idea that they are "compelled to consume". A culture that has a high amount of consumerism is referred to as a consumer culture.

To those who embrace the idea of consumerism, these products are not seen as valuable in themselves, but rather as social signals that allow them to identify like-minded people through consumption and display of similar products. Few would yet go so far, though, as to admit that their relationships with a product or brand name could be substitutes for healthy human relationships that sometimes lack in a dysfunctional modern society.

The older term "conspicuous consumption" described the United States in the 1960s, but was soon linked to larger debates about media influence, culture jamming, and its corollary productivism. The term and concept of "conspicuous consumption" originated at the turn of the 20th century in the writing of economist Thorstein Veblen. The term describes an apparently irrational and confounding form of economic behaviour. Veblen's scathing proposal that this unnecessary consumption is a form of status display is made in darkly humorous observations like the following:

:"It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed." [The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899]

An extreme view is that over-consumption threatens emotional destabilization of the global population, and that behavioral health professionals need to document and analyze the large group etiology developing a subculture of pathological self-medication. This is seen to have impacts far beyond the immediate consumer group. While resources to confront the crisis must be developed within geographic areas inhabited by the affected population, interest and motivation is often prompted and facilitated by efforts from outside the areas most affected. Such methods as boycotts or moral purchasing, for instance, often exclude dealings with a population pathologically consuming an ecosystem or species - these are often successful at ending such consumption, e.g. European Union boycotts of Canadian seal fur from the Newfoundland seal hunt.

The concept flows from the theory of commodity fetishism — that people experience social relationships as value relations between things, e.g. between the cash in their wage packet and the shirt they want. The cash and the shirt appear to conduct social relations independently of the humans involved, determining who gets what by their in-built values. This leaves the person who earned the cash and the people who made the shirt ignorant of and alienated from their social relationship with each other.

Anti-consumerist thought also makes the link between the relentless consumerism advocated by both governments and advertisers, and the continued degradation and destruction of the natural environment. In this aspect the anti-consumerist standpoint overlaps somewhat with the environmental movement. As a result, some environmental activists (that may not defy the capitalism system as a whole) may engage in anti-consumerism lifestyles and activities, as freeganism.

Critics of Anti-consumerism

In 1999, the magazine "Reason" attacked anti-consumerism, claiming Marxist academics are repackaging themselves as anti-consumerists. James Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida and popular writer, referred to anti-consumerism arguments as "Marxism Lite." []

Those critical of the anti-consumerism movements would argue that governments do legislate in ways that restrict the actions of corporations (see Sarbanes-Oxley Act) and that lawbreaking companies and executives are routinely caught and punished.

The libertarian attack on the anti-consumerist movement is largely based on the perception that it leads to elitism. Namely, libertarians believe that no person has the right to decide for (or even suggest to) others what goods are "necessary" for living and which are not, or that luxuries are necessarily profligate, and thus argue that anti-consumerism is a precursor to central planning or a totalitarian society. Fact|date=December 2007

See also



* Bakan, J (2004) "The Corporation".
* Elizabeth Chin (2001) "Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture" University of Minnesota Press ISBN 978-0816635115
* Hertz, N (2002) "Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy". Arrow.
* Monbiot, G (2001) "Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain". Pan.

External links

* [ Fifty Possible Ways to Challenge Over-Commercialism] by Albert J. Fritsch, SJ, PhD
* [ The Rebel Sell] , This Magazine, By Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter
* [ 25 Years of Monitoring the Multinationals]
* [ The story of stuff by Annie Leonard]

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