Eco-chic: connecting ethical, sustainable and elite consumption

European Science Foundation (ESF) Research Conference
11-13 October 2011, Linköping, Sweden
Researchers from the Social Sciences and Humanities are invited to participate in the Conference “Eco-Chic: Connecting Ethical, Sustainable and Elite Consumption”. This conference is organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) in partnership with the Linköping University. The conference will take place on 11-13 October 2011 at Scandic Linköping Vast, Linköping, Sweden. Submission Deadline: 31 July 2011. There is over €25,000 in funding available to cover conference fees, accommodation and travel costs, especially for younger scholars. Further information can be found below, at www.esf.org/conferences/11361 or by contacting rjaffe@fsw.leidenuniv.nl
Chairs: Dr. Rivke Jaffe & Dr. Bart Barendregt, Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University, the Netherlands
The accelerating pace of many societies has given rise to counter-movements such as Slow Food, Analogue Living and the Wellness revolution. Such processes generally oppose globalization, seeking answers in nostalgic, neo-traditional and explicitly local solutions: the slow, the natural and the authentic. Consuming the natural and the slow is instrumental in creating and maintaining class distinction: examples include the middle-class popularity of eco-tourism, and organic and fair-trade food and clothing. As radical societal change towards sustainable development appears increasingly difficult to achieve, ‘green’ lifestyles and ‘ethical consumption’ have emerged as attractive alternative propositions in moving towards environmentally friendly societies and combating global poverty. Where previously the environmental movement saw excess consumption as the global problem, green consumerism now places consumption at the heart of the solution.
This conference invites scholars to explore the emerging cultural complex that we term eco-chic: a combination of lifestyle politics, environmentalism, spirituality, beauty, health, often combined with a call to return to simple living. This combination is increasingly a part of the identity kit of the middle class, the newly rich and the traditional elites. Specific cultural objects feature significantly in eco-chic: local, natural and artisanal goods are refashioned in terms of aesthetics and price to allow the gentrification of a back-to-basics, place-based nostalgia. We are interested in eco-chic as a set of practices, an ideological frame and a marketing strategy, that have emerged in both the metropolitan areas and the rural landscapes of Europe and North America, as well as postcolonial settings such as Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Eco-chic also represents a rather conservative politics in its relation to sustainable development. ‘Political consumerism’, – evident in forms of ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ consumption – has become a formidable global force, with consumer choices emerging as an easy-access form of market-based politics. Reflecting the neoliberal turn, the market has become an important site of politics, collective action and ethics, where citizen-consumers are mobilized to incorporate non-economic values (such as the environment, social justice, and human rights) when selecting products and producers. We encourage participants to explore to what extent “idealistic” forms of consumption such as eco-chic contribute towards sustainable, ethically oriented societies, and to probe the ways in which the market has taken over from politics and the public sphere in solving major societal issues.
In this interdisciplinary conference we aim to connect subfields within social sciences and the humanities such as elite studies, consumption studies, material culture studies and studies of environmentalism, drawing on disciplines including sociology, anthropology, geography and cultural studies. We seek to consolidate the convergence of these fields and we aim to do so in global perspective.
Attendance is possible only after successful application. Full conference programme and application form accessible from www.esf.org/conferences/11361