As we complete this second issue of Consumed, I can’t help but feel proud of the members of our section, who have brought us a timely and important range of thought provoking, intellectually impressive new books and articles in recent months. Recent member articles are published in American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Contexts, Critical Sociology, Culture & Organization, Journal of Cultural Economy, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Writing this, I also find myself inspired by the community engagement work practiced by our members. The contents of this newsletter, and our upcoming “From Farm to Table” mini-conference, are testaments to the increasing purchase and validity of a publicly oriented sociology.
Syed Ali is the new co-editor of Contexts, the deeply valuable publication that brings cutting edge sociological research to a general reading audience. Kate Cairns, profiled in this issue, with her collaborator Josée Johnston, conducts research with feminist focus group methods designed to foster ongoing conversations about food, gender roles, neoliberalism, and the possibility for productive collective action. Those behind our mini-conference have created an afternoon program of field visits to City Slicker Farms and People’s Grocery, organizations that have harnessed community resources to directly confront the serious issues of food insecurity, economic blight, and dampened community spirit in West Oakland.
As Kate remarked to me when we spoke for her feature, the consumption of food serves as a powerful lens through which we can see issues of class, race, and power. We see the power of food as a critical lens in the research that many of us conduct, but also in the ways in which others document the world and raise questions about it. Take, for instance, the photography series, “Refrigerators,” by Mark Menjivar, some of which is featured above in our masthead. Menjivar, with an MFA in art and social practice from Portland State University, uses photography to capture snapshots of people’s lives. The images provide insight into the diversity of ways in which we live. When I look at his photos, I hear Kate’s words echoing in my head, and see with clarity how our lifestyles reflect our positionality within power structures.
These intellectually sharp and culturally grounded efforts, by our colleagues and by artists like Menjivar, serve as a reminder that our work as sociologists need not be contained by spaces like UC Berkeley’s Faculty Club, or luxury hotels in downtown San Francisco. It can, and should, live and breathe in the communities that surround and sustain us.
One of the areas it seems we can address, not only in our scholarship, but through engagement in our communities, is how to de-center consumer goods from our relationships with others, and how we might disentangle those relationships from the web of consumerism. The research of Kate, Daniel Cook (our section Chair), and Janet Lorenzen (winner of our gradaute student paper award), featured in the pages that follow, makes strikingly clear how deeply steeped in consumerism our relationships with others are. Even for those of us who resist its ideological and material constraints, consumerism remains an impediment to the meaningful pursuit of cultural, human, economic, environmental, and social systemic justice and equality.
Thinking of how we, a community of scholars focused on these issues, can push past the barrier of consumerism, I’m reminded of something Juliet Schor has written and spoken about. When we take something away from people, we have to give something in return. What will we, as a community of sociologists, give?
I invite you to respond to this question in the comments section below. I hope you will enjoy this second issue of Consumed.