Topic of the Week: Prosumer Politics
The notion that we are living in a Consumer Society has been a fundamental piece of post-1950s social theory. This has been the case for anarchists and other anti-authoritarians/anti-capitalists; but it has also been the case for neo-Conservatives and other right-wingers who blame the Consumer Society for cultural decadence, moral relativism, etc. As the economy becomes ever-more global and items of mass-production continue to be the sorts of things we import, it is clear that our assigned roles in the social order are closer to the Consumer Society model than the Industrial Proletariat model. The old justification for anti-capitalist revolution seems otherworldly at this point: ie, that there is an industrial working class who are the true creators of society's wealth, though exploited by capitalists, having every right to expropriate the expropriators and organize society without any sort of authority. At the same time, it doesn't seem accurate to say that we have merely transformed into a society of consumers, exploiting industrial workers in other countries through free-trade agreements, skating on the thin ice of cheap credit to drive the reproduction of everyday oppression.
Regardless, the proposed solution to such a society of consumers often comes in the form of returning to some sort of producer society. In many ways, this has now happened. Beyond do-it-yourself hobbies and growing/cooking one's own food, a good portion of the economy functions by transforming our social lives into products. The familiar example is the extraction, packaging, and selling of data that we generate while using Facebook, searching Google, or tweeting Twitter. A term for this role that we play when we are giving such companies data to sell is "prosumer". Prosumers participate in various sharing economies. They are consumers, but they are consumers who also produce the products that are sold to them. Not just in the sense of class alienation, but in the immediate sense of writing, drawing, painting, building, and maintaining products individually that companies sell back to them collectively, or manage the distribution of within networks. Though the term "prosumer" is usually used to talk about media-related industries, the application can be more general.
The examples of prosumption that I gave underlie various services we use supposedly for free. However, there are also many jobs that put workers into the prosumer role: Uber and AirBnB are two of them. Understanding how capital (and governments) use individuals who value independence, do-it-yourself approaches, flexi-schedules, etc. as a means to their own ends ought to be a decent part of contemporary anarchist critique. But often, it seems like older models of the Consumer Society and even still older models of a producer society are at the heart of contemporary critique.
In an effort to update our comprehension and critique of society (and our revolt against authority), this week's topic is on the problems we face when confronting prosumer roles and prosumer life. This week's topic is on Prosumer Politics ...and if you'd like, any variation using "anti-": anti-Prosumer Politics, Prosumer anti-Politics, etc.