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Monday March 22, 2010

Affluence, excess and the politics of consumption

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The politics of culture jamming, downshifting, slow living and other responses to western hyperconsumerism have been analysed in a new book by RMIT University's Associate Professor Kim Humphery.

Excess: Anti-consumerism in the West explores the complex reasons behind overconsumption in the affluent West and examines the need for developed nations to urgently change direction.

Associate Professor Humphery, Associate Dean of Research and Innovation in the College of Design and Social Context, said consumerism was one of the biggest issues of modern times.

"I'm interested in the backlash and the varied approaches anti-consumerist activists take to inspire and promote different attitudes to consumption," he said.

"Even now, as western economies struggle out of the global financial crisis, levels of consumption in the affluent world remain alarmingly high and it seems we're on course to return to the hyperconsumerism of the past few decades.

"But despite the stereotypes, we who live in the West are not merely mindless, addictive shoppers - there are myriad possibilities and limits, joys and frustrations inherent in consumption and there are many reasons why we consume.

"So I also wanted to examine what drives western consumption generally; and what drives many of us to excess."

Associate Professor Humphery interviewed activists on three continents for his analysis of the politics of anti-consumerism, offering an original and challenging perspective on contemporary consumerism.

"I wanted to move beyond conventional discussions of western materialism and avoid the moralistic overtones that are so often a part of anti-consumerist rhetoric," he said.

Various trends are examined in the book, including culture jamming, which aims to expose assumptions behind commercial culture and the branded environment, often by subverting and re-figuring logo and product images.

Other movements considered include downshifting and the emergent philosophy of "slow living" as a reaction against the frenzied pace of modern life.

Associate Professor Humphery is an internationally respected writer on consumer culture, sustainable consumption and the history of shopping.

He was the Chief Investigator on the Australian Research Council Discovery Project, Anti-Consumerism in the Contemporary West and was co-Chief Investigator, with RMIT's Professor Paul James, on the ARC-Linkage Project, The Wellbeing of Communities.

Excess: Anti-consumerism in the West (Polity Press, $39.95) was recently launched in Melbourne by award-winning author, Christos Tsiolkas.

Source: RMIT University;ID=m4y9ikdcguue;STATUS=A

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