22 Jun

Researching consumption – a retrospective

Posted By Politybooks

photo_miller07When a book is published that may be regarded as topical, making concrete recommendations with regard to key issues of the day, one of the questions one is likely to be asked is whether your opinions have changed since you wrote the text. To be honest, I half expected to find this book already dated, overtaken by events, or for my own views to have changed.

I wasn’t particularly concerned with the bulk of the work, which is based on many years research on the practice and explanation of everyday consumption and I am confident about that evidence. I was more worried about the last chapter which focuses on the issue of what we might do about climate change.

One reason is that this chapter is not at all what I wanted to write, simply because I found the evidence and arguments refused to confirm my expectations and opinions. But nothing I have seen since then would have changed the conclusion that climate change is just too immediate a problem to be dependent upon the whims of consumer lifestyle.

Even if we did all turn green overnight the proportion of the problem that comes from consumer choices is just too small. This is why I look at several other possible interventions and solutions.

But then perhaps it’s a pity that we have come to assume that contemporary social scientists only write the views they would wish for and the evidence that supports their opinions. I was brought up with a different notion of academic integrity, that you followed the evidence and the arguments wherever they lead you. In that sense this is a very old fashioned book.

It is one of the reasons I couched the material in the form of an internal argument between three characters. But in the end finding plausible and feasible solutions to climate change is simply too important and I honestly believe that the issues that comprise that chapter are the debates we need to be having right now.

Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at University College London and the author of Consumption and its Consequences.