Kits for “Alternative Hedonism”?

The concept of  ‘alternative hedonism’ coined by Hoper, provides an interesting view on peoples’ behavioural change in relation to consumption as a result of personal ‘disenchantment’ with the implications and outcomes of a consumerist lifestyle. The author argues even if this transformation is driven by individualistic motives, it still translates into more ‘altruistic’, ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable consumption’. Later, she makes a distinction between a ‘simple interest in consuming differently’, namely an ‘eccentrically’ or ‘occasionally’ alternative consumer, and the more ‘properly alternative hedonist’ response.1  Even if it might be problematic to define what constitutes ‘sustainable consumption’, and moreover, to measure where  occasional alternative consumers become alternative hedonists, this theory does not seem to be aiming at creating a mechanism to judge the virtuosity of people’s behaviour but to make the case for the relevance of emphasizing on the personal benefits that result from engaging in different modes of consumption, hence advocating the joys of  ‘alternative hedonism’ (in opposition to the unsatisfactory, unjust and resource intensive consequences of consumerism) as a new paradigm of what constitutes a ‘good life’, in any attempt by policy makers or environmental movements to motivate people to engage in changes.

Therefore it can be stated that the emphasis is to be made in advocating for ‘alternative hedonism’ as a shift from working to achieve self-interest benefits through individual profit or satisfaction, but instead through choices that contribute to the greater good and common well-being. In this sense, this concept relates to previously mentioned studies that promote the focus on intrinsic rather than extrinsic values2 and critiques to policies that seek to promote environmentally conscious behaviours by advertising individual financial savings3.

In another article from the special issue of Cultural Studies Journal on Anti-Consumerism, Thomas argues that evidence of the emergence of the ‘alternative hedonist’ paradigm can be found by analyzing some examples of contemporary British media; shows classified under three sub-genres of lifestyle television, ‘quest for the country’, ‘heritage cookery’ and ‘eco-reality’, feature individuals in a quest for alternative modes of consuming and living, hence representing new anti-consumerist models for people’s aspirations that she argues have come as a result and also can intervene in Britons image of  ‘the good life’. Thomas’ conclusions are useful when thinking about the role of television in the de-marginalization of anti-consumerist movements and their inclusion into contemporary popular culture4. Nonetheless, even if their presence in mainstream media accounts for a growing audience interested in these topics5, it is argued that there is still a number of gaps to be filled between the emergence of alternatives to consumerism, their wide acceptance as valuable and beneficial personally, socially and environmentally, people choosing to undertake alternative practices, and people making sustainable lifestyle transformations.

In relation to the present project, the four subjects that collaborated by documenting their lifestyles, and for whom the first communication kits have been designed, could be seen as four examples of  ‘alternative hedonists’ understood as people seeking to find joy in living in accordance to their values by engaging with alternative practices. Instead of using mainstream media to communicate the significance of their initiatives (as is the case of the examples studied by Thomas), this project is attempting to find quotidian alternative methods (that are not ‘driven by commercial imperatives’) to give voice to everyday activists, in the attempt to help fill the previously mentioned gaps.  It is important to note the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness and reach of these tools, nonetheless the focus of this project is placed on the exploration and inclusion of different actors within dialogs of sustainability.

Question: Could everyday activism kits be relevant tools to promote ‘alternative hedonism’?

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1. Soper, Kate. “Re-thinking the `Good Life` : The citizenship dimension of consumer disaffection with consumerism.” Journal of Consumer Culture 7.2 (2007): 205-229. Web. 08 Jul 2011.

2. See Devices section.

3. Slocum, Rachel. “Polar bears and energy-efficient lightbulbs: strategies to bring climate change home.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 22. (2004): 1-22. Web. 07 Jul 2011.

4. Thomas, Lyn. “Alternative Realities Downshifting narratives in contemporary lifestyle television.” Cultural Studies. 22.5 (2006): 680-699. Print.

5. Thomas 699.

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