This chapter explores “anti-consumerist” critique and practice as articulated in a range of Western nations over the last two decades. It surveys the rise of a twenty-first-century consumption politics, identifying how it has coalesced around opposition to consumerism and overconsumption, while remaining elusive in the extent to which it advocates substantive social and economic change and in the degree to which it rejects or embraces consumption as an arena of agency. The chapter explores this ambiguity through discussion of two interconnected forms of recent consumption politics—“responsible” consumer choice and “alternative” enterprise—outlining the fractured and tenuous ways in which these practices speak of contestation and of the emancipatory in relation to consumption and consumer economies. The chapter concludes by recognizing the conceptual and ideological limits of contemporary consumption politics, while insisting also that it has significantly expanded the political and ethical sensibilities through which we understand the commodity and its impact.
Simon Feeny and Mark McGillivray
This article examines the relationship between foreign aid and poverty in developing countries, with the goal of determining whether donor governments are motivated and actively set out to reduce poverty in developing countries through the provision of aid but with the impact of aid on poverty reduction. It begins with an overview of the aid and poverty record based on global data from the 1980s onward, with particular emphasis on Official Development Assistance (ODA). It then considers the analytics of aid and poverty before reviewing the relevant literature, including studies that address the impact of aid on growth and growth elasticity of poverty. The article argues that aid has had a marginally positive impact on poverty reduction in developing countries, and that poverty would be slightly higher without it.
This chapter considers the significance of Marx’s concept of alienation to his overall criticism of capitalism. At the concept’s core is the idea that while labor is potentially a fulfilling and liberating activity, under capitalism it appears only as a hostile, dominating force. Workers thus experience their own activity, natural and built environments, and fellow human beings as alien and hostile. While this idea has been deeply influential, it has also been the subject of heated controversies, in particular for its apparent dependence on an essentialist or teleological idea of human nature. While important, such controversies were often inflated by their political and intellectual context, and this chapter argues they should be considered alongside the lasting significance of alienation as an explanatory concept. Understood as such, it can still contribute a great deal to understanding and criticizing contemporary society, and provide guidance for how to transcend and replace it.
Analyzing the Socio-Technical Transformation of Energy Systems: The Concept of “Sustainability Transitions”
Dealing with the immense societal challenges of climate change and resource depletion requires no less than a fundamental transformation of the energy system, comprising not only technological change, but also cultures of energy use and consumption, new regulations, and new types of actors operating on the energy market. A growing field of interdisciplinary social science research on “sustainability transitions” deals with the dynamics and governance of such transformative, systemic, and socio-technical change processes toward sustainability. This chapter gives an overview of concepts used to study energy system transitions, their strengths and shortcomings, as well as new advancements. The chapter also discusses a concrete example of socio-technical change in the field of renewable energy—wind power—and reflects on some of the lessons that can be drawn from this about the interdependence of energy and society and for an understanding of transitions toward a more sustainable energy system.
This chapter examines global energy trends, whether a global renewable energy transition is already taking place, and what steps are needed to further accelerate the global deployment of renewables. It first considers the expansion of renewable energy in light of global energy trends, noting that a global energy transition is not yet a reality but is urgently needed. It then looks at drivers and barriers for an accelerated expansion of renewable energy and proceeds by discussing how renewables are moving from the sidelines to the center stage of global energy governance. In particular, it describes the politics behind the creation of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization on renewable energy, as well as current challenges for global governance on renewable energy. The chapter shows that global renewable energy capacities have grown significantly but that global energy supply is still dominated by fossil fuels.
This chapter explores three central questions. The first section describes the four core varieties of capitals: cultural, social, economic, and symbolic. It highlights some peculiarites of Bourdieu’s approach: the focus on symbolic capital, a definition of social capital different from those of North American. A second section questions the limits of economic metaphors. Bourdieu borrows from the lexicon of economics (capitals, conversion rates). But he devotes attention to the sociopolitical dimension of the struggles for defining the conversion rates between capitals and warns that “rational” actions are one historical dimension of a complex space of “reasonable” actions. Finally, the chapter discusses the question of the number of capitals. Should one add to Bourdieu’s list something like a bodily or erotic capital? If each field values a specific capital, should researchers produce an endless list of specific capitals, or are these specific capitals always combinations of the four basic ones?
This chapter argues that rather than being focused on the higher levels of consumption of aesthetic goods on the part of the educated class, Pierre Bourdieu’s main hypothesis in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste was concerned with how differences in class fractions as defined by total educational endowment (parental and individual) predict the extent to which individuals consume more artistically legitimate versus less artistically legitimate cultural forms. This argument leads naturally to Bourdieu’s understanding of the difference between the consumption styles of the educated (and less educated) classes as built from his understanding of differences in the formative experiences of different classes. The chapter develops the implications of this for contemporary debates regarding a more illuminating explanation of the omnivore taste phenomenon and other forms of aestheticized consumption.
Market intermediaries such as location consultants, tourism promoters, and branding specialists exploit the symbolic value of national territories to promote economic development. Although these practices are often justified as a way to “level the global playing field” of market interactions, they typically achieve the opposite effect, reinforcing or creating inequality and status differences. This chapter reviews some of the theoretical assumptions and pragmatic features of place-based marketing and branding, with particular emphasis on the role of judgment adopted by market intermediaries in the cultural economy. The argument advanced here is that symbolic and material systems are co-constitutive in the production of place; and that market intermediaries engage in ongoing practices of valuation to link national identity with material advantage.
Rod Hick and Tania Burchardt
This article examines capability deprivation as the basis for analyzing poverty. The capability approach, developed initially by Amartya Sen, questions the “informational space” on which considerations of poverty, inequality, justice, and so forth, should be based. According to the capability approach, the appropriate “space” for analyzing poverty is not what people have, nor how they feel, but what they can do and be. After providing an overview of the concepts that comprise the capability approach, this article discusses three key questions within the literature regarding the nature of the approach, namely: the question of functioning and/or capabilities, the question of a capability list, and the question of aggregation. It also describes some prominent empirical applications that have been inspired by the capability approach and concludes with an assessment of the current state-of-the-art literature on the capability approach.
This chapter explicates Marx’s concept of capital and highlights its centrality to his book Capital, arguing that Capital is specifically about capital, not all of capitalist society. In Marx’s conception, capital has two forms, money and means of production, but capital itself is the process of self-expansion of value, or valorization. The commodity fetish and subsumption of labor under capital are explored in relation to this. Employing Marx’s concept of the circuit of capital, the chapter considers his theory that value self-expands by extracting surplus labor and his understanding of the reproduction and accumulation of capital. It also argues that failure to rigorously respect the difference between constant capital and the value of means of production is one source of allegations that Marx’s value theory and falling-rate-of-profit theory are logically inconsistent or incorrect. Finally, his theory of surplus-value is compared to the view that interest is a “return to capital.”