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.”
This chapter argues that capital in general and competition are the two main levels of abstraction in Marx’s theory in Capital and that they correspond to the theories of the production of surplus value in Capital I and II and the distribution of surplus value in Capital III. The main question addressed at the level of capital in general is the production of surplus value or the determination of the total surplus value produced in the economy as a whole. The main question addressed at the level of abstraction of competition is the distribution of surplus value, or the division of the total surplus value into individual parts (first the equalization of the rate of profit across industries and then the further division of the total surplus value into commercial profit, interest, and rent).
Capital is the fundamental concept of modern social theory because capital is the foundation of bourgeois society. Unlike produced means of production, capital is a specific social form of production. A vast gulf separates Marx from the mainstream notion that capital is produced means of production. Inattention to production’s social form, a feature of the “bourgeois horizon,” shackles social theory: it puts capital out of sight. Capital is value whose value is increased. Value is enigmatic; a strange, “supersensible” social form of wealth, it results from commodity-producing labor. The topic of labor’s social form falls outside economics. Capital shapes and subsumes society in various ways. Marx identifies several forms of subsumption: formal, real, and ideal, as well as “hybrid forms.” Commerce makes capitalist society appear classless; however, capital presupposes a class division of the means of production and subsistence. Crises are seeded in the dichotomous character of commodities.
Capitalist Social Reproduction: The Contradiction between Production and Social Reproduction Under Capitalism
Martha E. Gimenez
This entry will look at Marx’s theoretical contributions to social reproduction in relationship to critical assessments of his alleged “neglect” of reproduction and to the development of the social sciences, particularly the “radical” social sciences that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and continued to develop ever since. Marx, as well as Engels, offered important insights for understanding social reproduction as an abstract feature of human societies that, however, can only be fully understood in its historically specific context (i.e., in the context of the interface between modes of production and social formations). Social reproduction in the twenty-first century is capitalist social reproduction, inherently contradictory, as successful struggles for the reproduction of the working classes, for example, do not necessarily challenge capitalism. Finally, this article argues that radical social scientists, because they identify the capitalist foundations of the social phenomena they study, have made important contributions to the study of capitalist reproduction.
Marx planned a book on the state as part of his larger project to critique the political economy of the capitalist mode of production. Nonetheless Marx analyzed the state over some forty years of critical engagement with bourgeois society and provided at least seven types of analysis of the state and state power. Overall, he highlighted the significance of the institutional separation of the economic and political in capitalist social formations, explored the normal form of the capitalist type of state and some of its exceptional forms (notably Bonapartism), and related state power to specific state forms and the changing balance of forces. This article surveys the development of Marx’s work on the capitalist state, the range of approaches that he adopted in specific contexts, his form analysis of the state, his conjunctural analyses, and his eventual discovery of the adequate form of a democratic socialist state in the Paris Commune. It builds on this analysis of Marx’s work to comment on subsequent Marxist analyses of the state and state power, including capital-, class- and state-theoretical work and emphasizes the importance of a relational approach to the capitalist state.
The conventional narrative on the crisis of climate change and its links to migration sees the physical impacts of climate change—such as sea-level rise, drought, soil salinization, and floods—as driving massive human migration, increasing existing flows from the Global South to the Global North as people flee disasters and famine. Yet contradictory evidence demonstrates that the relationship between climate change and migration is not so simple. Africa is indeed the most vulnerable content to these impacts, but this extreme vulnerability arises from physical exposure and because of the interplay of numerous social, political, economic, and environmental factors. Moreover, migration dynamics related to the climate change crisis manifest in nonlinear, heterogeneous ways across subregions and countries. Thus, this chapter outlines the varying and multidimensional relationships between human mobility and climate change in Africa. It considers the threat of climate change to African settlement dynamics both presently and in the century to come, before providing an overview of climate change–migration dynamics and challenges throughout the continent.
Tomás Rotta and Rodrigo Teixeira
This entry presents an analysis of the commodification of knowledge and information in contemporary capitalism. We provide a consistent account of how information as a commodity effects the workings of both capitalism and of Marxist theory. The first part of the chapter critically revisits Marx’s own writings on the commodification of knowledge and how the immaterial labor hypothesis initially interpreted these writings. Based on the new categories knowledge-commodity and knowledge-rent, we then present our own approach in response to the challenges raised by the immaterial labor hypothesis. Lastly, there is an analysis of the more recent contributions on the commodification of knowledge and information within the Marxist literature. The current debate on the value of knowledge has been divided between two camps: the reproduction cost approach and the average cost approach. Finally, there is a look at empirical estimates of the magnitudes of knowledge-rents.
Mark R. Rank
This concluding article proposes a new paradigm in which to understand poverty, focusing primarily on the United States even as several dimensions of the paradigm apply globally across other countries. It first considers the major tenets of the “old” paradigm, which is to a large extent a reflection and affirmation of both the free market economic structure and the culture of individualism that have profoundly shaped the American ideology. It then introduces the new paradigm, which aims to stimulate a fundamental shift in how we conceptualize and act toward the problem of poverty, and some of its major themes: poverty results from structural failings; poverty is a conditional state in which individuals move in and out; poverty constitutes deprivation; poverty as injustice; the condition of poverty affects and undermines each one of us.
Eric J. Arnould and Craig J. Thompson
Consumer culture theory (CCT) refers to a heteroglossic assemblage of theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations that seeks to illuminate the dynamic, interactive relationships among consumer actions, marketplace systems, cultural meanings, and broader sociostructural forces, such as socialization in class and gender practices and ideologies. This chapter traces out the historical evolution of CCT and the four major domains of theoretical interests that organize its research program. Using Jeffrey Alexander’s metaphor of disciplinary fault lines, this chapter profiles the intellectual tangencies that link CCT to cultural sociology and their respective points of differentiation. It further discusses how the future trajectories of CCT research are likely to be shaped by actor-network, flat ontologies, and efforts to more directly address macro-level societal problems emanating from the logics of consumerism and the neoliberalization of global consumer culture.
Ulises A. Mejias and Nick Couldry
This chapter examines the capitalist relations that are formed when we consume our own social lives via the production of digital data. The central argument is that participation in a digitized social domain is exploitative, since it entails new forms of commodified self-consumption. We argue that datafication or social quantification represents an expansionary phase of capitalism that we call data colonialism. Through it, we enter into specific social relations that normalize dispossession, and that subsume the once sharp separation between a bounded production process and an open-ended space of consumption into a larger process of continuous production/consumption. Data colonialism is thus a form of extraction and appropriation that seeks to colonize new domains of existence for capitalism, transforming quantified social life into a new type of resource that can be mined and processed by corporations.
Erik Olin Wright
Marx’s formulation of a theory of transcending capitalism is unsatisfactory for two main reasons: 1) the dynamics of capitalism may generate great harm, but they do not, as Marx claimed, inherently make capitalism unsustainable or generate the structural foundations of a collective actor with a capacity to overthrow capitalism; 2) the vision of a system-level rupture with capitalism is not a plausible strategy replacing capitalism by a democratic-egalitarian economic system. Nevertheless, there are four central propositions anchored in the Marxist tradition that remain essential for understanding the possibility of transcending capitalism: 1) capitalism obstructs the realization of conditions for human flourishing, 2) another world is possible, 3) capitalism’s dynamics are intrinsically contradictory, 4) emancipatory transformation requires popular mobilization and struggle. These four propositions can underwrite a strategic vision of eroding the dominance of capitalism by building democratic-egalitarian economic relations within the contradictory spaces of capitalism.