Infotech What if consuming became a collective act?

What if consuming became a collective act?

“Look Up! This is the slogan chosen by the demonstrators who will gather on March 12 all over France on the occasion of the “March for the climate and social justice”. The reference to Adam McKay’s film “Don’t Look Up” is excellent, because it made an impression. And unquestionably, it is time for humanity to face the reality of the environmental crisis. Once this observation is accepted, the difficulties begin. Because awareness does not by itself lead to a reorganization of society that is more respectful of ecosystems. Everything must change, and above all our consumerist lifestyles.

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Achieving ecological sobriety: the task seems insurmountable, as consumerism is so deeply rooted in our daily practices, and even our identities. Modern societies break with the principle of orders, but make consumption a social marker, a mode of “distinction”, as Pierre Bourdieu would say. This importance of consumption is reinforced by capitalism: the productivism inherent in it involves the dumping on the market of ever new goods, which must be consumed to make room for the next ones. And so on ad infinitum.

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One solution: build for a whole series of purchases “collective consumers” capable of articulating this environmental requirement and imposing it on production in such a way as to make it accessible to everyone. An old idea. The first consumer associations date back to the beginning of the 20th century, consumer cooperatives to the middle of the 19th century. To group the purchase, to evaluate the quality of the products or to protect against fraud, the principle is always the same: to take the consumer out of his isolation, from the head-to-head contact with the goods in which consumerism has confined him, and in particular the advertising. And thus develop a collective appropriation of consumption. The socialization of production – in the form, for example, of “nationalizations” – is not the only tool available to the lefts in their repertoire of action.

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Examples are multiplying today: the AMAPs, or “Associations for the maintenance of peasant agriculture”, are one of them, which is on the rise. We buy fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and other agricultural products together. We thus control the prices, the quality of the products and the conditions of their production, in particular environmental. This even builds a lasting relationship between consumers and producers, guaranteeing the latter a stable demand, which counterbalances the cyclical nature of the market.

Direct producer-consumer relationship

By defining specifications for products, consumers take part in production. As Fernand Braudel has shown, the appearance of ever more numerous intermediaries between production and consumption is one of the characteristics of capitalism. Production is moving away from consumption, both geographically and in terms of the control of production processes. Collective consumption is, on the contrary, based on a principle of disintermediation, a form of direct relationship between consumers and producers which makes possible a greater awareness of the social and ecological conditions of economic activity.

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Deployed on a small scale, these devices are expensive, not always adapted to contemporary lifestyles marked by a deteriorated relationship with time, and do not make it possible to reduce pollution unless consumption is drastically reduced. But fortunately they tend to massify via Internet. This is “social commerce”: some platforms allow consumers to interact with each other through social networks, thus taking them out of their atomized condition. They evaluate the products and then buy in bulk, thus obtaining a favorable price. Sometimes the production is based on consumer opinion. At this stage the logic is consumerist: these platforms, for example, offer preferential rates to customers who have convinced a loved one to consume. Not to mention its exorbitant energy cost. But in line with consumer cooperatives, something essential is at stake here: the rise to power of the “collective consumer”, resulting from the socialization of purchasing.

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Taking productivism in a pincer movement

What can remain the responsibility of the individual must remain so, there is no question of socializing all consumption. But the interactions between consumers, and between consumers and producers, must take place within a legislative framework that is demanding from an environmental point of view. A “green rule”, as proposed by the “Common Future” program led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon: only take from ecosystems what they can replenish. This rule must be written into the constitution, at the very top of the hierarchy of norms. “Consumer sovereignty,” the cornerstone of neoclassical economics and the policies that flow from it, must be subordinated to it.

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The socialization of consumption must be accompanied by that of production, in the form of a long-term organization of the ecological and democratic bifurcation, that is to say by debating and planning. Without breaking with market mechanisms, in particular that of competition, productivism will regain the upper hand, and with it the consumerism that follows it like its shadow. Take productivism and consumerism in a pincer movement by socializing production and consumption: only on this condition will ecological sobriety become possible, and with it a more virtuous relationship between human beings and their environment.

Clementine Autain is a Member of Parliament for Seine-Saint-Denis (LFI).

Cedric Durand is an economist, and member of parliament of the People’s Union.

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Razmig Keucheyan is a sociologist, and a member of parliament for the People’s Union

Aurelie Found is an economist, and president of the parliament of the People’s Union.

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