Communication and the Ethics of Consumption

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Type of Call: 
Call for abstracts
October 29, 2011

2012 CFP for Environmental Communication Pre-conference, May 24, 2012
Communication and the Ethics of Consumption
Environmental Communication Interest Group, International Environmental Communication Association (IECA)
Goals and participants
This pre-conference is one of the inaugural events of the Environmental Communication Interest Group. However, it is open to all conference participants. The goals are to bring scholars, grad students, community activists, journalists and others together to engage in a meaningful dialogue about what some take to be at the crux of our environmental crisis: excess consumption. In so doing, we aim to form a network of researchers who share this interest. In addition, we hope to expand the field of environmental communication in the direction of consumption and its discontents and highlight the links between this field of inquiry and other fields such as political, health and science, and popular communication.
The word “consumption” dates back to the 14th century and originally referred to diseases, especially tuberculosis, that slowly waste away the body. In Roman law, consumption meant the termination of one’s right to bring legal action. Raymond Williams noted that consumption is a metaphor for the stomach or furnace, where goods disappear. Today, as new and old consumer societies are rapidly exhausting the planet’s resources and the exploitation of the labor force has become a global phenomenon, the ethics of consumption frequently come under academic scrutiny. In the popular media, activists, intellectuals, citizens groups, NGOs, and not least, business have all taken stands on ethical consumption. From green consumerism and social marketing, corporate social responsibility, to the Transition Movement in the UK and the US, to the Meatless Monday Movement, to new forms of sharing material resources, to the emerging urban farmer coalitions in China, we are witness to a worldwide array of corporate and non-corporate attempts to explore ways to consume frugally and/or ethically, if at all possible. This pre-conference call draws in part on the growing realization that consumption is related to various other fields such as communication, health, popular culture and politics, and interest in the cultural contradictions of Western and global consumption patterns as expressed in new books, mailing lists, popular publications and conferences dedicated to sustainablity and consumption.
We define “consumption” broadly, as encompassing both the use of exhaustible material products (including media hardware) and the use of inexhaustible and immaterial media products and services (such as TV programming, music, movies, games, and web services). The popularization of user-generated media technologies and DIY cultures suggests that we need new ways to view the ethics of consumption, which has increasingly been merged into the process of production.
This pre-conference call is open to submissions that address the ethics of consumption from a communication and media perspective. Submissions may take several forms. In the interest of developing the field of environmental communication, we plan to split the day-long pre-conference into scholarly discussions, a full-group session on teaching the ethics of consumption, and innovative forms of engagement such as visits to local supermarkets, writing journalist accounts of ethical consumption, recycling center, thrift/re-use store, etc.
In addition to proposals for traditional academic presentations, we welcome presentations of substantive teaching materials (lesson plans, assignments, syllabi) for undergraduate or graduate classes on communication and the ethics of consumption and new forms of involvement in ethical consumption. all participants are required to submit an abstract, including, for example, participants who want to lead a tour to a local supermarket. They should include the rationale for this tour and their general plan.
Topics (include but are not limited to)
1. Critical examination of mainstream commercial discourse on ethical consumption (advertising, public relation campaigns, lifestyle journalism, etc.)
2. The grassroots use of media to organize or promote ethical consumption and attitudes
3. Media debates on the ethics of consumption and their implications for the environment, human rights, social justice, and democracy
4. Ethical assessments of the media industries themselves as consumers of raw materials (in the production of paper, electronics hardware, the energy that runs the internet and the like) and the discourse of green consumerism on media hardware;
5. Philosophical and theoretical framing of the relationship between communication and the ethics of consumption, or proposals for a new ethics of consumption in a world of changing media technologies.
Submission Guidelines
Prospective presenters are invited to submit abstracts of 300 words maximum (Word or PDF formats) to Richard Doherty at no later than Oct. 29, 2011. Please include authors’ names, institutional affiliation and email address in your abstract.
Organizing Committee
Merav Katz-Kimchi (UC Berkeley), Lee Ahern (Pennsylvania State University), Xinghua Li (Babson College), Richard Doherty (U of Illinois, Chicago).