On consumerism and globalisation

In: Uncategorized

22 Jun 2008

Benjamin Barber, a professor at the University of Maryland, writes that the contemporary world as besieged by two forces: consumerism and globalisation. Both of them, in his view, lead to the erosion of national autonomy. Consumerist capitalism is driven by an ethos of infantalisation which encourages narcissism and an obsession with consumption (he identifies key critics of this trend as David Riesman, Theodor Adorno and Jean Bauldrillard). Meanwhile, globalisation encourages privatisation This again, in his view, leads to an unhealthy atomisation of society.

Although much is wrong with Barber’s arguments there are elements of truth. For example, there is certainly a strong sense of powerless about what nation states can achieve. There is also an erosion of sovereignty of weaker states. In addition, there is an obsession with consumption in contemporary society.

However, his arguments are also one-sided. Nation states in the developed world are in many respects more powerful than ever. Indeed privatisation can be understood as in some ways representing an extension of state activity rather than its diminution. And obsession of consumption is itself a result of a more fundamental trend: the diminished subject. In other words the pervasive sense that people can do little to control their own lives.

Obviously such ideas demand a more thorough critique. Earlier posts on Barber were published in posts on 7 May 2007, 13 January 2008. 9 March 2008 and 28 April 2008.

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