From 'I' to 'We": Changing the narrative in Scotland's relationship with consumption

Iain Black, Deirdre Shaw, Katherine Trebeck

    Research output: Book/ReportOther report


    Materialism has become synonymous with debt fueled, wasteful, unsatisfying consumerism used to build and sustain our identities via what we buy.
    This materialism and consumerism has been interwoven with the rise of the narrative of ‘I’, where individual freedom takes precedence over and above collective experience and responsibility.
    The narrative of ‘I’ has become increasingly dominant as part of wider economic changes in Britain, where there has been a decline in productive exports and a rise in wealth extraction through mass consumption.
    Central to the narrative of ‘I’ has been the role of marketing as a manipulator, where social interactions are to a much greater extent imbued with spending, and status and group membership are defined by what, where, how and with whom we consume. It also helps create and support cycles of consumption by supporting a culture of continual change through product differentiation, regardless of social need or environmental sustainability.
    A shift from the narrative of ‘I’ to ‘We’ is necessary to establish the precedence of collective experience and responsibility, of shared experience and society, of equality and fairness and sustainability.
    The narrative of ‘We’ already exists in society – studies have shown that having a positive relationship with our families, friends and community, as well as having good health, are the things that matter most to us. The job of government is to re-establish the link between that narrative and our idea of what prosperity is.
    Partly this is about changing the language of government, to talk in terms of the social rather than the individual, the citizen rather than consumer, sharing rather than competition, and so on. When talking about business, government should not talk about citizens-as-consumers - a purely market-driven resource to extract wealth from – but in terms of how business can empower citizens.
    Policy recommendations include:
    - Make participation more desirable and possible by for example making entry to council sports facilities free, including entry to local authority swimming pools, open up park facilities, encourage sharing equipment through creating ‘libraries’, exclude shared and community goods from VAT.
    - Developing skills through more access to lifelong learning, including a ‘national skills database’ where experts put on workshops to teach people skills
    - Fund participation through subsidising community participation rather than the car and pharmaceutical industry. Make community volunteering tax deductible.
    - Reform the role of marketing so it is a facilitator rather than a manipulator. This will involve redefining how it is taught and understood and controlling how it is currently practiced by for example banning marketing and advertising to kids.
    - Make the producer pay for the cost of commercial waste rather than local government and introduce a pollution price trading scheme so environmental harm is added on to cost.
    New measurements of progress are needed to move from ‘I to ‘We’ to include more complex measures of how people, practices and spaces work together to create vibrant families and communities. These would include how often people access green space and the number of children who walk/cycle to school.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherCommon Weal
    Number of pages20
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2015


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