During the American "culture wars" of the 1990s, the left grappled with the apparently overriding significance of late capitalism's transformation of the mere practice of mass consumption into a widely accepted ideology of consumerism. Sections of the left skirmished with each other over the meaning of consumerism. For some, the victory of consumerism constituted proof that capital had decisively remade the world in its own image. Others coopted conventional happy talk about consumer choice, pointing out the agency consumers retain in what, why and how they consume goods, services and ideas. Some of the wildest excesses of postmodernism celebrated consumers as de facto subversives, prompting much corrective satire. Now, youth subcultures subscribing to radical critiques of both consumption practices and consumerist ideology are the most dynamic social movement on the horizon. But consuming for consumption's sake seems to be an indelible feature of capitalist society. Further, accelerated market forces are "globalizing" recreational consumption and its attendant social and cultural crises. But it is too easy to characterize cell phones and shopping malls in the Arab world as mere artifacts of a fresh alien invasion. As this issue of the Arab Studies Journal will contend, the politics of consuming are not new, and they are not irreducibly Western.
A well-documented boom in consumption in the post-colonial Arab world coincided with the dramatic expansion of the state, and its creation of a bureaucratic middle class to work in the public sector. We still lack basic empirical research into the social reach of the consumption boom, and its historical precedent: what and how much did the Arab world consume prior to the boom? Clearly, consumerist ideology began to develop in the interwar period: this phenomenon requires further investigation. The slow reorientation of Arab political economies to the private sector has transformed the politics of consuming. Neoliberal economic policies commodified goods and services formerly controlled by the public sector; oil wealth and migrant labor remittances deepened the social reach of consumption; consumption as practice and consumerism as ideology and culture both expanded even as production declined. Historically and currently, consumer practices and ideas are tied in insufficiently understood ways to the changing status of women. The proliferation and reification of commodities ranging from satellite dishes to kushari joints shows that, in the Arab world as well, things have a "social life."
The ASJ seeks papers that investigate the political economy, social reverberations and cultural meaning(s) of consumption practices and consumerist ideology in the Arab world. We encourage submissions across the disciplines. We encourage historical work on patterns of consumption, as well as historical investigation of the "social life of things" in the Arab world. Scholars from contemporary disciplines may focus on an array of topics. What shape does the ideology of consumerism assume in the Arab world? Is the divergence of increasing consumption and declining productivity sustainable, economically and politically? How should we interpret criticism of consumerist practices from ideological and religious viewpoints? What relationships may be traced between consumption or consumerism and state power? In what ways, if any, can consumption be a political activity? What is consumer culture in the Arab world? We also welcome research on consumerism and gender, consumerism and public health, consumerism and "globalized" youth culture, consumerism and ecology, consumerism and identity, and consumerism in a global or comparative perspective.
We encourage electronic submissions, sent to the managing editor, Cari Salisbury, at email@example.com.
Paper submissions may be sent to the address below.
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