In January 2023, Anders Rhiger Hansen visited Lund University to talk to Max Koch about sustainable welfare, human needs, social inequality and a little bit about Bourdieu. The message from Max was clear: politicians need to drop the idea of green growth and instead define a safe and just operating space to determine what can be done within this space. His sociological approach combines Marxian and Bourdieusean traditions, and he recommends that the Consumption and Society community investigates consumption in combination with processes of production, for example by engaging with critical political economy approaches such as the French regulation school or the Frankfurt School. According to Koch, the survival of the planet requires holistic approaches that would transform society and its exchanges with nature, based on principles of degrowth and on a scale that we have not yet seen.
Many people have been labelled with psychiatric ‘diagnoses’ such as ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. That was one of the labels that was bestowed on me, amongst others, incorrectly. This poem speaks to what I experienced.
Industrially produced mass culture has the reputation of being uniform and monotonous, leaving hardly any room for originality and creativity. In stark contrast to this concept, other theorists of popular culture emphasise the increasing individuality of mass culture made possible by the increasing opulence and leisure time of the working masses followed by the marketing of consumer goods and services. Using the American automotive markets and the Soviet fashion industry as examples, the article addresses the role of fashion in promoting individuality in modern consumer culture questioning both Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s analysis of culture industry and Bourdieu’s analysis of the ‘down-to-earth’ taste of the working class. Critical Theory was right in referring to the culture industry, fashion included, as promoting pseudo-individuation, but not right in downplaying the role of the individual judgement of taste. Bourdieu was right in arguing that the social groups with little cultural and economic capital have hardly any role in challenging the legitimate taste, but not right in arguing that their taste is not an aesthetic taste at all. In analysing the relation between the individual and the social, or the particular and the general, in modern culture, one should pay more attention to the social formation of fashion, operative in consumer goods markets. The reconciliation between the individual and the social that fashion offers is real enough but takes place only provisionally and in a socially conforming manner challenging neither the social formation of fashion nor the general social order of the capitalist, commercial society.
COVID-19-related social lockdowns had profound consequences in all aspects of social life, yet technology’s role in mediating relationships during lockdown has received little attention. Drawing on a survey of 565 young adults in the UK, we used mixed methods to explore (a) differences in technology use by people in serious romantic relationships (cohabiting vs. living apart together), casual relationships or single; and (b) how COVID-19 influenced long-term, serious relationships. For participants in a serious relationship, technology was used as a strategy to facilitate ongoing communication, enabling partners to achieve ‘intimacy from afar’. Qualitative analysis revealed five reasons (more free time, navigating lockdown restrictions, greater boredom, desire for love and miscellaneous) for online dating profile usage changes. People in serious relationships perceived deeper intimate bonds, boundary issues, less physical intimacy, difficulty with lockdown separation and greater negative impact because of COVID-19. Limitations and implications are discussed.
Political elites have been evading the causes of climate change through deceptive fixes. Their market-type instruments such as carbon trading aim to incentivise technological innovation which will supposedly decarbonize or replace dominant high-carbon systems. In practice this techno-market framework has perpetuated climate change and social injustices, thus provoking public controversy. Using this opportunity, social movements have counterposed low-carbon, resource-light, socially just alternatives. Such transformative mobilisations can fulfil the popular slogan, ‘System Change Not Climate Change’.
This book develops key critical concepts through case studies such as GM crops, biofuels, waste incineration and Green New Deal agendas.
Techno-market fixes carry beneficent promises to decarbonize economies in ways avoiding societal disruption and conflict. But the problem runs more deeply: they justify institutional change along neoliberal anti-democratic lines, supposedly in order to realize the techno-optimistic promises. Often a mobilized counter-public has stimulated public controversy and promoted alternative solutions. Exemplifying eco-localization, some local agendas would incur lighter resource burdens, enhance socio-economic equity, involve grassroots innovation, localize production-consumption circuits, assign political responsibility and devise appropriate sociotechnical means. Such transformative mobilizations undermine climate fixes and go beyond them. More effective strategies can emerge from Participatory Action Research, whereby researchers and practitioners jointly define the problems that warrant research. In the case studies here, knowledge exchange with political activists helped to sharpen action-research questions for a systemic perspective on false solutions versus alternatives. As many cases here illustrate, technical designs and standards always facilitate one social order rather than other, thus warranting political struggle. This big picture can help to identify and facilitate an effective social agency for transformative mobilizations, as steps towards system change.
The EU originally promoted agribiotech (genetically modified [GM] crops) through several neoliberal policy changes extending market relations. This techno-market fix included broader patent rights, market liberalization of agriculture, and research agendas blurring the public and private sectors. In the EU’s dominant narrative, agribiotech would be a crucial eco-efficient means for multiple benefits, for example, for the sector to gain global economic competitiveness, to minimize farmers’ dependence on agrichemicals and thus to protect natural resources. But GM crops were soon denounced for threatening the environment and human health. Mass opposition eventually blocked a European market, opening up opportunities for ‘quality’ alternatives, eventually for promoting agroecological systems. Yet policy support measures have been constrained by the dominant techno-market agenda, subsidizing agri-industrial systems for higher yield and global markets. When climate change became a more salient issue, in 2014–2015 GM crops were relaunched for a ‘climate-smart agriculture’ which supposedly would make agri-industrial systems more resilient, while also becoming eligible for carbon credits. Critics turned this techno-market agenda into a political controversy over ‘corporate-smart greenwash’ and thus an opportunity to promote agroecological alternatives as truly climate-resilient for ‘cooling the planet and feeding the people’.
In 2009 the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive set a statutory mandate for renewable energy in transport fuel, citing the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This mandate expanded biofuels from edible feedstock, thus provoking controversy over multiple harms. The obligatory market incentivized land-use changes in the global South, in turn restricting resource access for local food production, while disguising various harms through sustainability criteria. As a key rationale, the EU mandate would help stimulate the EU’s Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE): technoscientific progress would bring ‘advanced biofuels’ using only non-edible feedstock. Meanwhile this future promise served to perpetuate conventional biofuels. Even before the Directive’s enactment, critics provoked opposition over several issues, for example, the EU’s resource plunder, significant harms beyond the sustainability criteria, lax standards for vehicle emissions, and a delay in electric vehicles as replacements. Despite such opposition, the mandate continued to permit the most harmful feedstock for at least another decade after the 2009 Directive. This outcome resulted from prioritizing an ‘investment climate’ for the KBBE rather than GHG reductions.
In recent years, Green New Deal (GND) agendas have gained significant support for a transition to an environmentally sustainable, low-carbon, socially fairer economy. In the 2019 US and UK versions, endorsed by some public-sector trade unions, the GND sought to achieve a net-zero carbon by 2030, localize production-consumption circuits and reduce resource burdens. Proponents envisaged greater socio-economic equity by mean such as expanding public goods and workers’ cooperatives. When these agendas sought endorsement by major political parties, however, trade unions in fossil fuel sectors sought a commitment to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as a condition for supporting a GND, thus perpetuating fossil fuels. Such promises illustrate the general appeal of technofixes to soften societal conflicts around a potentially disruptive decarbonization process. By contrast, going beyond climate fixes, the labour movement has been promoting GND local campaigns for a socially just, low-carbon economy. Its agendas for retrofitting houses illustrate a cooperative eco-localization perspective, in conflict with the neoliberal techno-market fix of competitive tendering that constrains insulation standards and improvements.
The slogan ‘System Change Not Climate Change’ has sharpened public debate about the societal changes that are necessary to avoid climate disaster in ways creating an environmentally sustainable, socially just future. The demand for ‘system change’ directs attention at profit-driven, high-carbon production systems which cause climate change, other environmental harms, resource plunder and social injustices, along with policies which perpetuate them. Protest has generated low-carbon, socially just alternatives, but these have often lacked an effective social agency for replacing harmful high-carbon systems. Meanwhile neoliberal techno-market fixes have emphasized market-based incentives for techno-solutions. This policy framework underlies the UN Climate Convention and the European Union, whose false solutions have maintained system continuity, contrary to their environmental pretensions. Such fixes have sometimes provoked public controversy, as an extra opportunity to promote alternatives. This book presents a big picture of their strategies and potential, as steps towards system change.