Other Pleasures: Countering Consumerism, Culture and the Representation of the 'Good Life'

Prof Kate Soper
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Pressure for sustainable development is unlikely to be applied in the absence of a seductive alternative to existing patterns of Western affluence. It is therefore to important to theorise - as this paper will do - the desires implicit in current expressions of affluent consumer anxiety and disaffection, and to highlight the alternative structure of pleasure and gratification to which they gesture. It will present a high-speed, work-dominated consumerist life-style as both compromised by its negative aspects (noise, pollution,stress, aesthetic impact, etc.)and as pre-empting other possible - and possibly as yet unconceived - sources of pleasure and need fulfillment. It will also consider the role of new thinking about 'the good life' in altering the structure and dynamic of consumerist culture. Especial attention in this presentation will be paid to the possible impact of media and cultural representations, and of an emerging counter-consumerist aesthetic, in altering the structure and dynamic of the consumer culture.

Keywords: Consumption, Anti-consumerism, Hedonism, Environment, Aesthetics, Cultural representation
Stream: Other or Stream Unspecified
Presentation Type: Plenary Presentation in English
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Prof Kate Soper

Professor of Philosophy, ISET (Institute for the Study of European Transformations), London Metropolitan University

I am a philosopher and social and cultural theorist with early and persisting interests in theory of needs and consumption. (I am author of a much used work on Marxism and human needs :On Human Needs, Harvester 1981). These concerns are at the centre of my engagement currently as lead researcher on a theoretical project on 'Alternative Hedonism, the theory and politics of a new anti-consumerism' funded in the 'Cultures of Consumption' Programme of the ESRB/AHRB. This is concerned with the political and cultural implications of emerging forms of ambivalence towards the consumerist lifestyle on the part of affluent consumers themselves, and with the role of media and culture in shifting perceptions of the 'good life' towards a more sustainable consumption. (For details see: www.consume.bbk.ac.uk under 'Research').

I have also written extensively on debates in Continental philosophy and social theory, and also on a variety of feminist issues (including most recently on feminism and Enlightenment thought, but see also my collection of essays in Troubled Pleasures, Verso,1990). Much of my work has been in the area of environmental philosophy and politics and I have a special interest in the aesthetics of nature. (See, for example, What is Nature ? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human, Blackwell, 1995). My most recent book, co-authored with Martin Ryle (To Relish the Sublime ?: Culture and Self-Realisation in Postmodern Times, Verso, 2002), defends the idea of canonical literature as an important resource in self-realisation.

I am a translator of, among others, Timpanaro,Castoriadis, Foucault, Noberto Bobbio and Carlo Ginsburg.

I have had a long association with Radical Philosophy, and was on the editorial collective of New Left Review. In the eighties I was very active in the European peace initiative, and was Chair of UK European Nuclear Disarmament (END).

Ref: H06P0018