A look at "Being Human in a Consumer Society"

21 Apr 2015

Editor Alejandro Néstor García Martínez shares his thoughts on the book 'Being Human in a Consumer Society' (Ashgate 2015), result of the 2011 STI Experts Meeting of the same name.

Tell us about the book’s purpose.

This book offers an interesting perspective in sociological studies because it aims to introduce neglected normative questions into a sociological discussion. The phrase “being human” in the title initiates the tone of the volume by forcing questions about the good life and human flourishing within the current consumer society - questions too often ignored in contemporary sociological and cultural studies. The volume is also unique because it brings together both interdisciplinary and international authors to engage questions facing each part of our globalized and globalizing world, where consumerism is a keystone for understanding our contemporary culture and its social structures.

So it is different from other works on similar themes?

The nature and consequences of consumption and the so-called Consumer Society have been attracting academic attention for a long time. However, the field of Consumer Culture Theory was not institutionalized until 2007.

In the last 5 years there have been a number of publications on consumption and consumer culture, but none of them have the focus this one brings to the reflection on these themes.

This book is an interdisciplinary work –although with a prevalent sociological approach– that addresses normative questions regarding consumer culture. Most of the recent comparable publications have a more specific focus…

In sum, Being Human in a Consumer Society differs in scope, focus and methodology from other comparable literature, providing a more general analysis of the nature of consumption and the consequences of consumer culture for human flourishing through different –although convergent- academic approaches.

Does the book take a position?

The overall strength of this book is that it does not take a strident position on “being human” in consumer society. On the contrary, it tries to reconcile the extreme positions of dehumanization versus empowerment.

What arguments about consumption are considered?

The reflection that guides all the chapters included can be formulated as significant questions such as:

  1. What significant cultural or structural transformations can be identified in consumer society, in comparison to earlier societies?
  2. In discussing consumption, what is the relation between individual motivations and structural constraints? How can these two concepts be linked in order to understand consumer society and its dynamics?
  3. What processes and tendencies have been –and still are– relevant for the consolidation of a culture of consumption? How does consumption culture affect our understanding of the nature of human beings and praxis?
  4. To what extent does the culture of consumption spread to other social spheres, affecting social relationships? What are the limits, if any, of this extension?
  5. In what ways can a culture of consumption lead to isolation, individualization or commodification of human beings?

How are those arguments structured in the book?

As a whole, this book offers an interdisciplinary approach to some normative questions related to the good life and human flourishing in consumer societies. Chapters are ordered in order to take into account the structural conditions that consumer culture imposes (Part I), but also trying to leave some ground to human autonomy through the connections between those structural conditions and human relationships as a cultural context for human praxis (Part II). Finally, the reflections conclude with some more general approaches and an analytical framework for understanding consumer culture and human praxis (Part III).

Visit Alejandro Néstor García's expert profile
Visit Being Human in a Consumer Society Experts Meeting Page
Read the abstract of 'Being Human in a Consumer Society' (Ashgate, 2015)