Call for Papers: Let's Talk about $$$tuff: Consumerism in the Americas

Call for Papers for the 22nd Amerikanistendag at the University of Groningen

27 March 2015

“What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” (Andy Warhol)

Ever since the industrial revolution initiated the era of mass production during the 19th century, the world has started to consume at an unprecedented rate, and since the 1950s, people everywhere on the globe have bought and used more goods than the combined total of the world population throughout history. In many ways, the U.S. has been at the pinnacle of this development. Enjoying a time of national prosperity after WWII, the country saw the average American‟s spending power rise, and the sales of TVs, household appliances, and automobiles skyrocketed. Despite periods of economic downturn during the second half of the20th century, the general trend towards excess consumption has continued unabated until this moment. Currently, as a Mt. Holyoke College project on the “History of American Consumerism” found out, “[t]he average US-American uses 300 shopping bags worth of raw materials every week, an amount of food that weighs as much as a large car; [w]e would need the resources of 3 planets for everyone to live an „American‟ lifestyle; 99% of the stuff people in North America buy is trashed within 6 months after purchase; [and] Americans drive about as many miles as the rest of the world combined.” This American consumer lifestyle has also had a tremendous impact on other countries worldwide, and the U.S.‟s export of consumer and lifestyle products has contributed substantially to promoting a version of the “American Dream” that has encouraged thousands of migrants to seek a better life in the U.S.

Yet at the same time, industrial production and mass consumption are the biggest contributors to global forms of environmental destruction such as deforestation, ozone depletion, water and grain shortages, and soil erosion. Moreover, the tendency of multinational corporations to produce where labor is cheapest has driven American companies to outsource their production to other parts of the world, including Latin America and Asia, while driving local companies into bankruptcy. Even though recent financial crises have created a renewed understanding of the importance of the concept of “Made in America,” the question remains how this development can influence the working conditions of blue collar workers in the United States and elsewhere when production has to be cheap and fast. While the top 1 percent of the population is acquiring more and more wealth and goods, millions of Americans depend on a minimum wage that may remain stagnant, despite President Obama‟s assertions to thecontrary during his Labor Day speech of 2014. And when the minimum wage is below the living wage, are the poorest American consumers still able to buy some of the same things as the richest, as Andy Warhol claimed?

For these reasons, patterns of over-spending and over-consumption as well as current developments in international capitalism, corporate globalization, and economic neoliberalism have met with widespread criticism. At least since the protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1999, a wide range of activists, including trade unionists, environmentalists, land rights and indigenous rights specialists, as well as sustainable development and anti-sweatshop campaigners have started to gather annually during the World Social Forum to highlight how the policies of corporate globalization have exacerbated poverty in the global South and increased inequality both within the US and in other (Latin American) nations.

In addition, multinational companies as well as governments now also work in data-rich environments. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt noted in 2010, mankind now creates as much information every two days as it had from the dawn of civilization to 2003. The ways in which these (often sensitive) data are currently being used to gather information about citizens and/or possible consumers increasingly also leads to regulatory and ethical concerns.

The organizers of the 2015 Amerikanistendag invite proposals that focus on any aspect of consumerism in the Americas (the USA, Canada, and/or Latin American nations). Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following aspects:

- historical developments of / changes to consumption habits in the Americas

- consumerism and (social) media

- consumerism and identity; the role of status symbols

- consumerism and diversity; the targeting of specific (immigrant) markets

- the capitalism-inequality-poverty nexus, or, the American Dream in the era of globalization

- the consumption and distribution of data and intelligence information in the context of international security concerns

- critiques of consumerism (from Thorstein Veblen‟s Theory of the Leisure Class [1899] to the “Battle of Seattle,” the concept of rebellious consumption [David McRaney] and recent trends in downshifting and simplifying one‟s life)

- critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism (Occupy Wall Street; the Mexican Zapatista movement; the concept of “Socialism for the 21st century” as advocated by Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales; campaigns targeting multinational corporations such as Nike and Monsanto)

The organizers invite speakers to submit proposals for brief presentations (15-20 minutes) in English on any subject related to the conference theme to Dr. Marietta Messmer ( Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.). Deadline for the submission of proposals: March 16, 2015. For more information, please contact Dr. Messmer.