Abstract

In affluent societies, evidence suggests that public concern and activism about “the consumption problem” is growing in many corners of everyday life—even in the paragon of the consumer society, the United States. These emerging concerns have an environmental dimension, but also embrace issues of community, work, meaning, freedom, and the overall quality of life. Yet the efforts of individuals, groups, and communities to confront consumption find little guidance or sympathy in policy-making, environmental, or academic circles—arenas dominated, perhaps as never before, by a deeply seated economistic reasoning and a politics of the sanctity of growth. Given our dissatisfaction with fragmentary approaches to consumption and its externalities, we highlight the elements of a provisional framework for confronting consumption in a more integrated fashion. We stress in particular the social embeddedness of consumption, the material and power-based linkages along commodity chains of resource use, and the hidden forms of consumption embedded in all stages of economic activity.

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