Bentley College Marketing- Honors

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Relationship between freedom and consumption

a recent article in ams review discusses the relationship between consumption and freedom . does capitalism and the free market and with it consumption promote freedom?

check it out:

The Unfree Consumers: Consumption and Freedom Under Subaltern
Conditions, a video by Rohit Varman and Ram Manohar Vikas.

Text summary available at,

Video available at

Several scholars have argued that in this period of late capitalism or
postmodernity, consumption is increasingly defining human freedom. In
this video, we question this conceptualization of human freedom with
consumption as its prime facilitator. We contend that the relationship
between consumption and freedom is only a tenuous one. This argument is
based on a case study of a subaltern group of consumers. We observe that
majority of consumers continue to live in abysmal material conditions.
In a capitalist system governed by markets, access to resources remains
critical for consumers to exercise freedom in the domain of consumption.
For a vast majority of consumers, especially the subaltern groups, work
continues to be defining for their state of unfreedom. We show that lack
of empowerment in the domain of production translates into lack of
freedom in the sphere of consumption. Most significantly, through this
research we question the artificial nature of separation of the spheres
of production and consumption suggested by some theorists. We argue that
capitalism as an economic system is fundamentally concerned with its
propagation and separation of spheres of production or consumption
offers only a limited understanding of this systemic thrust. Finally,
with the concept of positive freedom we contend that realization of this
systemic thrust is essential for subaltern groups to emancipate themselves.
Our video provides an account of extremely tough living and working
conditions of subaltern workers in a North Indian city of Kanpur. These
workers lack legal protection, despite existing government laws, to
ensure payment of minimum wages. This subaltern group puts in long
working hours, far exceeding legal working limits, without any system of
over-time payment. This group has no employment guarantees, which make
them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Inefficient and corrupt
government machinery fails to provide any protection against
exploitation by their employers. Disempowered workers in the sphere of
production find it impossible to protest and demand better wages or
exercise greater control of their working conditions. Video exhibits
that lack of control in the domain of work directly translates into
unfreedom for workers in the sphere of consumption. Abysmally low levels
of access in the areas of food, clothing, and shelter provide a
powerful, albeit tragic, description of unfreedom of this subaltern
group in the area of consumption. We further contend and demonstrate in
our video that consumption itself can become a panopticon and freedom
entails self-realization. Positive freedom also raises the issue of
consciousness and understanding of the ideological forces at a systemic

Summarizing, the discourse of freedom inflected with elite interests,
obfuscates the systemic dimensions of capitalism. For the subaltern
groups described in the video, liberation from the systemic exploitation
will only translate into freedom in the domain of consumption.


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