All the better to eat you with!’The contribution of consumer culture to the rise of predatory capitalism | P Kennedy | Journal of Consumer Culture

Consumer culture has been inextricably bound up with two parallel transformations: the growing emphasis on self-actualization or individualization in late modernity and the rise of a particularly disengaged and predatory capitalism during the last 40 years. Wide academic and public understanding exists concerning the separate ways in which each of these forces have played out in societies, cultures and politics especially since the late 1970s. Arguably, though, there has been less attempt to plot the interconnections between them or to grasp the implications of these for a potentially radical critique of consumerism. This neglect is unsatisfactory and ignores the grounding of both consumer culture and the pursuit of self-actualization in the underlying and changing structures of the capitalist economy such that the seductiveness of both serves to either conceal, beautify or seemingly de-fang the wolf underneath. At the same time, the article explores some of the main ways in which these overwhelmingly prevalent preoccupations isolate and disempower consumers by, for example, encouraging personal debt and competitive consumption, fostering the belief that self-branding processes will liberate individuals from unsatisfactory lives or because of the social fragmentation and humiliation that result when citizens’ poverty excludes them from joining the dominant game. All this, in turn, leaves consumer-citizens socially and culturally ill-equipped to challenge the new capitalism through collective rather than purely individual action.

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