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Can Consumer Demand Deliver Sustainable Food?

Recent Research in Sustainable Consumption Policy and Practice

Cindy Isenhour

From Slow Food and farmers' markets to ecolabels and fair trade an unprecedented number of consumer-based alternative food movements have risen in response to concerns about the environmental and social effects of industrialized agriculture. Some research suggests that these movements are successful in their efforts to reconnect communities, demystify global food chains, and produce sustainable foods, which are healthier for the planet and human bodies. Yet other scholars argue that the contemporary focus on consumer responsibility in policy and practice indicates much more than a process of reflexive modernization. The devolution of responsibility to consumers and the dominance of market-based solutions, these scholars argue, reflect the growing influence of neoliberal environmental governance. From this perspective these movements are naive in their assumption that consumers have the power necessary to overcome the structural barriers that inhibit significant change. These critics argue that the focus on consumer responsibility excludes those without access to consumer choice, reproduces social hierarchies, and fails to deliver the political and redistributive solutions necessary to achieve sustainability. Drawing on research across the social sciences this article surveys the existing evidence about the effectiveness of consumer-based movements in their attempts to create sustainable food systems.

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Communism, Consumerism, and Gender in Early Cold War Film

The Case of Ninotchka and Russkii vopros

Rhiannon Dowling

This article deals with ideologies of domesticity, femininity, and consumerism as they were articulated in two films in the early Cold War. These films, shown in occupied Berlin from the spring of 1948 through the first few months of 1949, were Ernst Lubitsch's Hollywood classic Ninotchka (1939) and the Soviet film Russkiivopros (The Russian Question, 1948). They portrayed competing notions of domestic consumption and the “good life” in the aftermath of the Second World War—issues more commonly understood to have characterized the later, thaw-era, years of the conflict. Though they were shown at a time of heightened political and ideological tensions, neither painted a one-dimensional or demonized portrait of the enemy. Instead, both films employed narratives about the private lives and material desires of women in order to humanize their enemies and yet make a statement about the inhuman nature of the other system.

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Jane Collins

This article explores dominant ideological framings of the economic crisis that began in 2008, by examining shifting meanings of consumer citizenship in the US. The consumer citizen was a central figure in Keynesian ideology—one that encapsulated important assumptions about the proper relationship between production and consumption and the appropriate arenas for citizen engagement with the economy. Taking Wal-Mart as a case-study example, the article analyzes the way that corporate actors have flattened and reconfigured the concept of consumer citizenship in the US—promoting the “consumer” over the “citizen” and the “worker,” which had previously been important aspects of the concept—and have replaced Keynesian-era conversations about the proper balance between production and consumption with a rhetoric of choice between low prices and high wages.

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Reading Production and Culture

UK Teen Girl Comics from 1955 to 1960

Joan Ormrod

In this article I explore the production of teen girl comics such as Marilyn, Mirabelle, Roxy and Valentine in the promotion of pop music and pop stars from 1955 to 1960. These comics developed alongside early pop music and consisted of serial and self-contained picture stories, beauty and pop music articles, advice columns, and horoscopes. Materiality is a key component of the importance of comics in the promotional culture in a media landscape in which pop music was difficult to access for teenage girls. I analyze the comics within their historical and cultural framework and show how early British pop stars were constructed through paradoxical discourses such as religion, consumerism, and national identity to make them safe for teen girl consumption. The promotion of these star images formed the foundation for later pop music promotion and girl fan practices.

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Brian Wemp

The Grands Magasins Dufayel, a huge department store built on the northern fringe of late nineteenth-century Paris, had an important cultural influence on the city's working class. In a neighborhood with few public spaces, it provided a consumer version of the public square. It encouraged workers to approach shopping as a social activity, just as the bourgeoisie did at the famous department stores in central Paris. Like the bourgeois stores, it helped transform consumption from a personal transaction between customer and merchant into an unmediated relationship between consumer and goods. Through advertising the store portrayed itself as a space where the working-class visitor could participate in new and exciting forms of entertainment and technology. Its unique instore cinema and exhibits of inventions like X-ray machines and the gramophone created a new kind of urban space that celebrated the close relationship between technology and consumer culture.

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Violence, Global Unrest and Advanced Capitalism

(And Why Wile E. Coyote Never Catches Roadrunner)

Daniel Briggs

Over the last five years or so, we have witnessed increasing forms of violence and unrest across the world. In the media, these depictions are presented as actions of resistance to oppressive regimes and corrupt politics, yet are, at the same time, deliberately detached from a global politik which is collapsing in numerous ways: the manifestations evident in market instability, and increasing austerity, unemployment and social inequality; a sign perhaps that the orgy of globalisation is reaching its climax. Some of all this was reflected in what we saw across English cities during the summer of 2011 and in this article, I discuss these riots and why they might have happened and the State response. Perhaps more importantly, I show how they should be reconsidered alongside other forms of violence and dissatisfaction against oppressive regimes and corrupt politics as a collective response to a global system on the brink of collapse as a result of its never-ending pursuit of rampant profit at the expense of millions of people. I relate this fruitless quest of profit to Wile E. Coyote’s incessant pursuit of Roadrunner.

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Urban Consumers on Two Wheels

Metropolitan Bike-sharing Schemes and Outdoor Advertising in Paris, Montreal, New York, and San Juan

Tomás López-Pumarejo

Large-scale public bicycle rental programs represent the latest grand venture for outdoor advertising corporations. By supporting these programs, advertisers gain unfettered access to street furniture and municipal billboard space and thus acquire the power to transform the city dwellers' experience of the urban landscape both visually and kinetically. These public-private bike rental programs have mushroomed around the world due in part to the impact of Paris' Vélib, which is the world's largest. This paper discusses the role of outdoor advertising in this trend, and focuses on two existing and two projected public bicycle programs. The existing programs are Vélib and Montreal's Bixi; and the projected ones are slated for New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico.1

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Handmade Identities

Girls, Dolls and DIY

April Renée Mandrona

This article examines the connection between two discrete areas of inquiry—the study of dolls as it relates to the identity of young girls, and the contemporary DIY (do-it-yourself) craft movement. I identify how the activity of DIY doll-making might be useful for thinking about what it means to be a girl in relation to its offering a departure from the hyper-commercialized, ready-made dolls of the twenty-first century. The commercial doll has existed alongside its counterpart, the homemade doll, since the beginning of industrialization. In different ways both forms of the doll have played a significant role in the lives of young girls and they continue to shape both collective and individual identities associated with what we think of as being a girl. Tracing the act of doll-making and the residual influence of craft movements in my own childhood, I explore this notion of dynamic identity formation: I examine doll-making as a medium for artistic creation and narrative development with the potential to transform girlhood identities.

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Wesley Shumar

This article focuses on the ways that modern American universities are engaged in the process of articulating new producing and consuming subjects. It argues that the image of the engaged ‘media celebrity’ intellectual, as presented in the TED Talk model, has become a cultural ideal that reconciles a deeper contradiction in the academy. Through a complex process, university faculty and students are assimilated into the globalised lifestyle and the identity of cosmopolitans by participating in a social space that is at once an upscale shopping mall and at the same time a high tech corporate research park. This global elite is forged first out of individuals who make it through the university and then secondly out of those university students who successfully excel under the twin pressures of elite production and consumption. Most student, faculty and universities fall short of this ideal. But by watching TED talks they can aspire to this fantasy ideal through the image of the media celebrity intellectual.

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Mark Bayer

Sometime around 1890, Romeo and Juliet became the first Shakespeare play translated into Arabic and staged at a public theatre. The classic love story proved exceedingly popular among theatregoers in Cairo, and it remained in the repertory of Iskandar Farah’s theatrical company and its various successors for over twenty years, even while it was simultaneously revived by other troupes. The success of this production has been duly noted. The popularity of Shuhada’ al-Gharam [The Martyrs of Love], as it was known, remains somewhat puzzling, however, since it was in many respects completely foreign to its early Arab audiences who had very little familiarity with Shakespeare, and especially the genre of tragedy. But if it was unfamiliar to them, replete with the melodramatic songs of the fl amboyant pop star Salama Hijazi, and punctuated with comic sketches, recited poetry and cabaret-style music between acts, it would strike Western viewers of Shakespeare as equally exotic.