Monday, July 19, 2010

Introducing the Citizen-Consumer

For the most of the modern period, citizenship and consumption have been considered antithetical to one another. From Thorstein Veblen at the turn of the twentieth century, to the culture industry critique of the Frankfurt School later on, and even more recently in the writings of social critics such as Daniel Bell and Christopher Lasch, the propagation of consumerist values has been seen as having a derogatory effect on civic and cultural life.

This can be understood as rooted in large part in the conception of citizenship as public and consumption as private, a reflection of the ideal distinction between polis and oikos that goes back to the ancient Greeks.

But with the postmodern turn, the subjectivities (that is, the social roles and experience personae) of citizen and consumer have moved closer together. Along with the rise of neoliberalism on the one hand, has been the perception increasingly of the citizen as a kind of consumer, an individual user of state services guided by self-interest. With the efflorescence of new social movements and identity construction on the other hand, has come the idea of the consumer as a political agent, leveraging marketplace sovereignty into legislative sovereignty of a sort, the conduct of politics by other means.

This blog intends to investigate the intersection of citizen and consumer, reflecting on the theories behind and current and historical practices of political consumption. In particular, it will look at representations of political consumption in a range of communications media and how they are used to mobilize citizen-consumers into action.

Image above: Josiah Wedgewood, Am I Not A Man and A Brother? (1787). Created as part of the anti-slavery campaign under the British Empire.

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