Revised Project Proposal: Don’t feel so good about green

In my research so far on green products/the green economy, I have focused more on the production end of the equation, but I am currently thinking that I would like to focus my exploration of this issue on the green-product consumer.  I would like to further explore Josee Johnston’s concepts of the citizen-consumer and consumer activism, particularly as they relate to environmentalism (“The citizen-consumer hybrid: ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market”).  I am struck by the inherent contradiction in the idea that through the conscious re-direction of our money (namely to buying “green” products) we can right the (environmental) wrongs of capitalism.  I will use this contradiction to further analyze the concept of hegemony laid out by Gramsci and Williams, particularly the idea of emergent alternative and oppositional culture.  Green products seem a perfect example of the way new, potentially oppositional trends can be co-opted by the dominant culture.  Even so (in a move typical of cultural studies), I am not yet ready to rule out the potential benefits of this absorption of environmental consciousness.  Can emergent ideas co-opted by the dominant culture in this way further that culture – can this new green consciousness so present in marketing and business have more than a marginal impact on capitalist practices, products, and consumers?

Though I still need to do more research (and I’m trying my best here to let this be an honest exploration and learn from my research – we’ll see how that goes), I am currently rather skeptical.  I am particularly intrigued by Andrew Szasz’s argument that these acts of green consumption are actually motivated by the urge to isolate and protect ourselves (as opposed to a primary concern with the environment), and promote what he calls “political anesthesia,” the feeling that we have done something to solve the environmental problem and thus are required to do nothing more (Shopping Our Way to Safety).  I currently see myself making an argument similar to this one, pulling a Said-esque move to examine the ways our new narrative about ourselves as “environmentally-conscious consumers,” though perhaps producing a superficial awareness of environmental issues, negatively impacts our actions, making us content in our consumption and undermining what is being claimed by many to be a true, world-wide mass movement along the lines of what Marx had dreamed of…

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