Monash University

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Exploring alternatives to consumerism

posted on 2017-02-06, 03:14 authored by Binay, Itir
In exploring alternatives to consumerism this study adopts a social constructivist world view. It is observed that, within consumerism, meaning is often created through utilizing the symbolic meanings of possessions. Whether interpreted as liberating or enslaving, the consumer is suggested to be dependent on consumption and consumer culture for meaning. Nevertheless, literature to date has failed to provide a framework in which non-consumption can be studied as an alternative to consumption. This study challenges the significance of consumption as a source of meaning. To understand non-consumption as an alternative to consumption, this project introduces the non-consumption continuum. Based on Fromm’s (1976) dualistic understanding of ‘having’ and ‘being’ (modes of existence), the non-consumption continuum extends from consumerist having to non-consumerist being. Consumerist having is representative of how meaning is created within the dominant social paradigm with an emphasis on possessive individualism (MacPherson, 1962). Non-consumerist being, on the other hand, is realized through engagement with non-consumption activities (sharing, engagement with production and communal consumption) and is grounded in sharing and interpersonal experiences. The non-consumption continuum allows for anti-consumption to be studied as expressed through the consumption of the preferred object (anti-consumption by preference) as well as in the form of the rejection of consumption (anti-consumption by rejection). The non-consumption continuum adds to current anti-consumption literature by providing a platform from which to contextualize anti-consumption in relation to non-consumption. This research investigates the non-consumption continuum through an exploratory qualitative study of three Intentional Communities with varying degrees of interpersonal and resource sharing. Ethnographic data collection comprised participant observation as well as in-depth interviews at the three communities, two of which are situated in Australia and one in Turkey. The relative cultural marginalization of the three communities within their parent culture, as well as the impact of their relative cultural maturity, explored the ways in which non-consumption is imagined and manifest within communal living. Furthermore, the role of ideology and utopian imaginings in non-consumerism is discussed through an analysis of the relative cultural embeddedness of action, using Swidler’s (1986, 2001) concepts of settled and unsettled culture. It is concluded that the way in which alternatives to consumerism are imagined is dependent on prior experience with communal living and environmentalist movements, and the internalization of a non-consumption ideology. Nostalgic imaginings of a more traditional and at times primitive lifestyle were also identified as a signifier of an alternative to consumerism. This research illustrates that consumption dependent meaning creation is challenged in settings of communal living by replacing dependency on the market for meaning with communal co-dependency for resources and experiences. While life outside of consumerism is utopian, communal living allows for the restructuring of the meanings of sharing which enable sharing to be a way to extend the self and generate meaning, independent from consumption. Moreover, communal co-dependency supports the individual in challenging the authority of engagement with consumerism as the sole source of meaning and representation of success through enhanced interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships foster non-consumerist being, in which the ‘good life’ and happiness is not personified in the material, but in the shared, engaged, creative experience. This project proposed further research on the ways in which the meaning of co-dependency can be redefined within the dominant social paradigm so as to promote engaged, sustainable lifestyles, with reduced levels of consumption.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jan Brace-Govan

Additional supervisor 1

Harman Oppewal

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics

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