Conference at Clark expands global scholarship on consumerism

Carol Graham, of the Brookings Institution, talks about The Pursuit of Happiness: Toward the Economy of Well-Being”

Carol Graham, of the Brookings Institution, talks about The Pursuit of Happiness: Toward the Economy of Well-Being”

Scholars from around the world gathered at Clark University (June 12-14) for the international conference of the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI), The Future of Consumerism and Well-Being in a World of Ecological Constraints.

The conference, which drew 117 participants, included presentations by scholars working in the field of sustainable consumption, policy briefings by national and international experts, keynote lectures, workshops and plenary dialogues.

Clark President David Angel welcomed conferees to the University and to Worcester, a city “undergoing profound social and cultural transformation.” He spoke of Clark’s role as an anchor institution in the community and its part in advancing sustainable development as well as social progress.

In her opening remarks, conference chair and Clark University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy Halina Brown presented a framework for the days’ work, outlining four “lenses” through which to consider the consumer society:

- Consumption is very much a part of the very human search for meaning and well-being.

- In a consumer society, the mutually reinforcing relationship between technology and common practices of everyday life tends to push toward more complexity, more amenities, and more volume; hence, more consumption.

- Resistance to change in consumption patterns exists because consumption is at the core of the stability of current economic system and many major technological systems.

- Consumerist culture is a construct that emerged after the Second World War through concerted strategic efforts of governments and the free market.

 “It is clear,” Brown said, “that to generate knowledge and understanding about the self-sustaining power of consumerism and about a possible transition into a post-consumer society requires that we bring into the conversation researchers from a wide range of disciplines and scholarly traditions. This is what this conference – and SCORAI in general — seeks to accomplish.”

Historian and author Sheldon Garon, of Princeton University, presents “Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves.”

Historian and author Sheldon Garon, of Princeton University, presents “Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves.”

Among many esteemed panelists and moderators were keynote speakers Sheldon Garon (Princeton University), who presented “Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves”; Bob Massie (New Economics Institute), on “Building the Movement for a New Economy”; Carol Graham (Brookings Institution), who discussed “The Pursuit of Happiness: Toward the Economy of Well-Being”; and John Fullerton (Capital Institute), presenting “Transition to the New Economy.” A plenary dialogue on “Time, Self-Provisioning, and Happiness” was led by best-selling authors Juliet Schor (Boston College) and John de Graaf (Take Back Your Time).

The complete SCORAI Conference program is available online.

Halina S. Brown, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, Clark University

Halina S. Brown, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, Clark University

Halina Brown: “My final observation is this: contemplating the future of consumerism, or its demise in favor of an alternative, is a subversive and deeply political act. If the phenomenon of mass consumption provides stability to the economy, major societal institutions and the political process, then it follows that there are powerful and determined agents poised to protect the status quo. … So this is, in essence, the mission of SCORAI: to facilitate development of knowledge and understanding, and to see that that knowledge and understanding nurtures social innovation and radical change.”

Co-organizers of the SCORAI Conference included Clark Senior Research Scientist Philip Vergragt, with Professor Maurie Cohen of New Jersey Institute of Technology, John Stutz, vice president of Tellus Institute of Boston, and Jeffrey Barber, president of Integrated Strategies Forum in Washington, D.C.  Brown, Vergragt and Cohen also are co-editors of “Innovations in Sustainable Consumption: New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices” (Edward Elgar Publishing, April 2013).

Ethan Goffman, Associate Editor of the journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, discusses the conference in a series of blog postings.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge convention. Change our world. www.clarku.edu

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