At this time of year, a lot of folks are thinking about shopping. As regular readers will know, I've been thinking about shopping for a couple of years now, ever since I took a class in "material culture" at the University of Toronto.
I've been particularly interested in where politics meets the study of material culture -- specifically, how much our political world has been affected by consumerism. Once you realize how much we've been influenced by the idea that we need to buy stuff, it's a little bit addictive (like shopping, I guess). You see it everywhere.
Don't get me wrong: I like stuff. Especially pretty stuff. Consumerism is with us; our economies are built around it and the Western world is particularly attached to the notion, since it probably helped win the Cold War.
I'm just not entirely sure that our whole world has to be organized around the idea that we are consumers all the time.
At any rate, I'm turning this into a book (fingers crossed) in the not too distant future. In the meantime, though, I continue to poke away at the idea whenever I can in daily or other journalism. This month, it's in the year-end issue of Policy Options (where I've explored this idea before). You can find a pdf version of the article by clicking here.
Who is that other byline on there? Don Lenihan is my spouse and a vice-president at the Public Policy Forum. He works in the field of public engagement with government; doing very interesting things in the realm of keeping citizens involved with the state. To do that work, he starts from the conviction that people have a different relationship with their governments than they do from merchants or industry. Not better, not worse -- just different.
The Policy Options piece, then, is a combination of both our long-term projects. If you're interested in separating out which parts we did, I can say that I did most of the description, he did most of the prescription. But we traded drafts back and forth, and did edit each other's words. So it really is a collaborative exercise, which is sort of Don's area of expertise. If we had tried to do this using the techniques I'd gained from politics, I guess we'd have just ended up yelling at each other or calling each other names. I'm relieved to report that we did the story Don's way.