ER290-6 Spring 2000 cc#26251

Globalization, Consumer Culture, and the Environment

11:00-12:30 T,Th
Professor's Office: Barrows 320, 642-8194, email:
Office Hours: T 1-3 PM, or by appointment


The world is in the grip of unprecedented social and cultural changes, as world trade in consumer goods begins a new phase of expansion. Global communications media and cheap air travel have reduced the costs of cross-cultural connections of all kinds, boosting television, tourism and emigration to new levels. At the same time, following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, capitalism has become more pervasive, less nationally-limited and more powerful all over the world. Global financial integration proceeds at a furious pace, while commodity flows increase, and countries become increasingly dependent on each other for food and basic commodities.

Something important is happening, and we are only beginning to understand what the effects will be on our lives and on culture and daily life. One important dimension of this global change is the dramatic increase in the consumption of goods manufactured, designed and/or marketed by firms based in Europe, North America and Japan. The dramatic global increase in the consumption of "northern" goods has been perceived, in many places, as the greatest threat to the continued existence of local traditions, local cultures and local economic autonomy. At present rates of change, the rapid increase in consumption of all kinds also threatens the stability and diversity of the natural environment in many ways. The impacts range from the direct consumption of particular plants, animals, and natural resources that damage or eliminate stocks, to very indirect impacts which must be traced through numerous economic, social, and physical channels.

This course will take a critical look at literature on globalization and consumerism. We will read some current theory from transnational studies, anthropology, sociology, history, and cultural studies that can provide tools for evaluating and understanding consumerism. Our goal is to forge some connections between the disparate literatures in different disciplines, to understand the key dimensions of the problems of globalization and consumerism. Then we will investigate some of the linkages between consumer culture and environmental problems, tracing the chains of cause and effect that link particular kinds of consumption to specific places, resources, people, and interests. At the end of the course there should also be some time for us to read and talk about the anti-consumption, simple-living, sustainable consumption and other activist strategies for changing the direction of consumer society.

Course Structure

This is primarily a reading seminar. I will often lecture or lead a topical discussion on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays we will discuss readings. You are responsible for keeping up with the reading and coming to class meetings where you will participate in the discussions. We will be keeping up a fast pace, so don't fall behind.

In addition, you will participate in the seminar as a discussion leader. There is a veritable flood of literature on globalism and consumption right now. I have loads of books and catalogs of more books, many of which are relevant to the class. So I will ask each of you to read two books this semester, and to give a book review to the class. You should also provide a written book review for each one, consisting of a minimum of 1500 words. All the reviews will get added to my ‘reviews of books on anthropology and consumption" webpage at

So expect me to break into a lecture from time to time, and to bring in articles for discussion on a regular basis, but also expect to put a good deal into your own contribution to the discussion.

Grading and Course Requirements

One quarter of your grade in the course will be based on my assessment of your class participation, based on how well you keep up with the reading and contribute to class discussion based upon it. I will from time to time ask each of you to take the lead in class discussion, and I will grade you on your performance.

One quarter of your grade will be based on your two book reviews. I expect these to be thoroughly polished, well formatted, professional-level publishable work. Go read some book reviews in major journals if you want some good examples.

One half of your grade will be based on an independent research project of your own. This should be in the 15-page 5-6,000 word range. I will give you a handout on the written assignment in the second week of class. If you are working on your own field research design right now, I would be happy if you write something furthering your project which relates directly to material culture/consumption issues.

Otherwise I want you to write a paper that focuses on a particular commodity which is widely consumed in some part of the world. You can pick something as mundane as a kind of shoes, or as unfamiliar as the black caterpillars eaten in Burkina Faso. Then you will take either a temporal or a spatial approach to the context of the item - tracking its consumption history, or the way its consumption links particular people and groups, or the environmental consequences of its consumption and disposal. Then you will analyze the context of consumption from one or more of the theoretical perspectives we will be learning in the class.

I do not want this course to extend into the summer, so you should have a VERY good reason if you want to take an incomplete this semester. You must discuss this with me in advance.

Required Texts: (All should be in the campus bookstore)

Course article package (table of contents) Walvin, J. 1997 Fruits of Empire. NYU. ISBN 0814793142 Slater, D. 1997 Consumer Culture and Modernity. Polity. 0745603041 Burke, T. 1997 Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women. Duke. 0822317621 Korten, D. 1995 When Corporations Rule the World. Kumarian.1887208011 Miller, D. 1998 A Theory of Shopping. Polity. 0745619460 Waters, M. 1995 Globalization. Routledge. 0415105765 Horowitz, D. 1992 The Morality of Spending. Elephant. 0929587774 Durning, A. 1992 How Much Is Enough? Norton. 039330891 Dominguez, J. V. Robin, J. Dominguez 1999. Your Money or Your Life. Penguin 0140286780


Ryan, J., A. Durning.1997 Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. Northwest Environment Watch. 1886093040

I have used different books each time I teach this class. For reference, these are the ones I have used before which you are not required to read this time (but which you will find rewarding if you have the time).

Miller, D. 1997 Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford.
Miller, D. 1995 (ed.) Acknowledging Consumption. Routledge.
Tobin, J. (ed.) 1992 Re-Made in Japan. Yale.
Watson, J. (ed.) 1997 Golden Arches East. Stanford.
Featherstone, M. (ed.) 1990 Global Culture. Sage.
Miller, D. 1994 Modernity: An Ethnographic Approach. Berg.
Taussig, M. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America. North Carolina.
Basch, L. et al. 1993 Nations Unbound. Harwood.
Fiske, J. 1989 Understanding Popular Culture. Routledge.
McCracken, G. 1988 Culture and Consumption. Indiana.
O'Barr, W. 1994 Culture and the Ad. Westview.
Andrae, G & B. Beckman 1985 The Wheat Trap. Zed.

Course Schedule and Text Readings (a separate article reading schedule is here)




Jan 18

Course Introduction


Jan 25-27

Global Change1

Waters: Globalization

Feb 1-10

Global Change 2

Korten: When Corporations Rule the World

Feb 15-17

History of Modern Consumption

Walvin: Fruits of Empire

Feb 22-24

Consumption History and Morality

Horowitz: The Morality of Spending

Feb 29 – March 9

Theories of Consumption

Slater: Consumer Culture & Modernity

March 14-16

Consumer Ethnography 1

Miller: A Theory of Shopping

March 21-30

Consumer Ethnography 2

Burke: Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women

April 4-13

Consumption Environment links

Durning: How Much Is Enough?

April 18-25

Activism and Consumer Policy

Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life

April 27- May 4

Student research symposium



Final Paper DUE: 5 PM, Thursday May 11, in my office.

Fine print:

You are responsible for keeping up with the readings and for attending class regularly. Late assignments will be accepted, but grades will be reduced. Incompletes are only given with good reason, and if I am notified two weeks before the final exam date. You are not allowed to copyright any of my class handouts or other materials, nor can you publish them or use them in public presentations without my permission.

You are encouraged to discuss with classmates and colleagues, and to collaborate in studying, reading, digesting, and synthesizing class materials. I encourage you to form study groups and/or reading discussion circles. BUT, all written work you turn in must be your own individual work, unless you make arrangements with me in advance for a co-authorship. Co-authored work gets one grade that is shared by all authors.

Plagiarism is a serious breach of academic ethics. Use full footnotes and references for all quoted or attributed materials. Since we will be publishing class work on the web, we need to pay careful attention to copyright restrictions on fair use. We also need to use a uniform style for text and references:

I am always available for consultation and discussion in my office. Please don't wait until the last minute to discuss problems, readings, or issues with me! I am always very busy, but I will always make time to talk about something.

Email is often the best way to ask me brief questions, to check on assignments, or make short comments. If you miss class, contact me by email to find out if you have been assigned some discussion for the next week.