Dreamworlds of seduction: designing beyond the consumption imperative

2017-03-02T03:16:51Z (GMT) by Vains, Caroline
Leisure shopping expanded enormously over the course of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, and shopping now monopolises most Western cities and structures the everyday lives of the people that live in them. This development has entrenched consumer capitalism (along with its ethos of exponential growth) as the only viable socio-economic model, even as its chronic problems of environmental, social, and economic unsustainability continue to grow. This thesis approaches this thorny problem from a fresh perspective, that of leisure shopping as a fundamentally embodied practice, and the phenomenological relation between shopper and city that this embodied practice generates. The thesis argues that, while the practice of leisure shopping can certainly arouse a raft of experiential and aesthetic pleasures, insofar as shopping is responsible for environmental degradation and social injustice, its aesthetic pleasures are also ethically compromised. It proposes that this gap between the ethics and aesthetics of shopping can, nevertheless, be bridged, and the aesthetics of shopping redirected to ethical effect. It investigates ways of building this bridge by drawing on the two correspondingly contradictory methodologies of phenomenology and Situationism, and applying them to the practice of leisure shopping. Through these means, it shows how the model of shopping imposed by consumer capitalism can be redirected to generate a sustainable model of shopping. One that both resists and transcends the consumption imperative and, as such, meets key criteria for the three-fold model of environmental, social, and economic sustainability, otherwise known as the ‘three pillars’ model. As arch anti-consumerists with a neo-Marxist agenda, the Situationists were ideologically biased and committed to socio-political change through revolution. Phenomenology, on the other hand, strives to set aside all bias and intention, and concentrate instead on an ideologically impartial study of first person experience. While these two methods approach their respective fields of operation with very different attitudes, they are both self-reflective practices that prioritise first person experience. By drawing them together and weaving them into a hybrid method, this thesis also constructs a self-reflective methodology. In this instance, however, the impartiality of phenomenology constrains the political bias of Situationism to generate a method of ‘checks and balances’. Through this thesis, I detail this method and explain how I applied it to conduct four shopping experiments in Melbourne city’s retail heartland. In the process, I unpack how these experiments enabled me to access leisure shopping in unusual ways and work fruitfully with both its problems and its pleasures. This approach to the research has proceeded on the basis that the two main discourses that have informed the consumption debate to date – the pro-consumption aesthetic pleasures analysis and the anti-consumption neo-Marxist ethical critique – are theoretical extremes that have been locked in a stalemate of mutual oversight and denial for too long. As a result, they have hindered rather than helped the contemporary sustainability discourse in its drive to find practical solutions to the overconsumption that leisure shopping epitomises. By analysing the outcomes of the four experiments through both discourses, and bringing the insights of each to bear critically on the oversights of the other, the thesis overcomes this stalemate and describes, instead, an alternate practice of leisure shopping that is both aesthetically pleasurable and ethically sound. In view of the anti-consumption critique’s cornerstone claim that leisure shopping is, at best, a complete ethical void and, at worst, a deadly aesthetic siren call, this redirection of the aesthetics of shopping to ethical effect is a significant and original outcome of the research.