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Title: Communally Living the Positive Alternative
Authors: Bekin, C
Szmigin, I
Carrigan, M
Keywords: voluntary simplicity;downshifting;ethical consumption;ethnography
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: ICFAI University Press
Citation: Bekin, C., Szmigin, I. and Carrigan, M. (forthcoming) “Communally Living the Positive Alternative,” in H. Cherrier and F. Gandolfi (ed.), Downshifting: A Theoretical and Practical Approach to Living a Simplified Life, ICFAI University Press.
Abstract: Downshifting and other ‘resistance’ consumer behaviors have been examined according to varied perspectives, including political consumption (Shaw 2007; Shaw, Newholm and Dickinson 2006; Dickinson and Carsky 2005; Micheletti 2003), consumer activism and movements (Hermann 1970; Hilton 2003; Kozinets and Handelman 2004; Lang and Gabriel 2005) and resistance to consumer culture, the marketplace or marketing more broadly (Kozinets 2002; Giesler and Pohlmann 2003). Indeed, communities of alternative consumption involving radical forms of downshifting and/or ethical consumer behaviour have been largely positioned as anti- consumer culture and anti-marketing (Kozinets 2002; Giesler and Pohlmann 2003; Dobscha and Ozanne 2002; Dobscha 1998). But Juliet Schor (1998:23) suggests that past movements such as the “hippies” were “much more self-consciously anti-consumerist than most of today’s downshifters”; that downshifters today “are not dropping out. They are not back-to-the-land types. They don’t live together. And they don’t share a religion.” In this chapter we examine whether downshifting behaviour is possible within alternative community lifestyles, how it is manifested, and whether it may be considered a form of resistance to consumer culture in such a context. To do so, we review a diverse body of cross-disciplinary literature on the question of resistance to consumer culture, comprising the perspectives mentioned above. We also examine six UK communities of consumers who at a first glance could be seen as current embodiments of the ‘anti-’ and/or ‘resistance’ phenomenon, but which instead have shown communally-held ‘positive alternative’ approaches to discourses and practices encompassing downshifting and ethical consumption. We consider the communities’ relationships with the market and wider society from both the community position and the views of individuals within, presenting the everyday realities of downshifting in a communal context. We (re)present the communities through data from three years of ethnographic research comprising participant-observation, depth interviews, websites, print documents, broadcast material, informal conversations and experience stories with participants in what we have termed New Consumption Communities (Szmigin, Carrigan and Bekin 2007; Szmigin and Carrigan 2003). New Consumption Communities are presented as beneficial in terms of consumer re-enablement; they have been conceptualized as communities providing alternative ways of engaging in consumption and negotiating with the marketplace to an increasingly varied range of individuals (Szmigin, Carrigan and Bekin 2007). New Consumption Communities are formed around a sense of community through consumers’ reconnection to production, and maintained through engagement in boycotts, voicing of concerns and positive choices (Szmigin and Carrigan 2003). The six distinct cases are presented throughout the text in order to diversely illustrate our arguments in this chapter. The first of these is Hockerton Housing Project (HHP), the UK’s first ecologically sound, energy-efficient, earth-sheltered housing complex, launched in 1998. It was built by five resident families who produce 100% of their own wind energy, grow organic food, and manage their own sewage, water collection and filtering systems. Members are committed to a community business that comprises guided tours, educational and specialist workshops. HHP considers itself a best practice example and catalyst for sustainable living. The second community is Fallowfields (pseudonym). Founded in 1950 as an educational trust, Fallowfields had eighteen members at the time of research (2004). Their values comprise learning to live life peacefully and in community. Some members live in shared and others in independent accommodation within the community. During fieldwork, Fallowfields was undergoing an ethos-searching period, with environmental causes gaining prominence. The third community is Spiritual (pseudonym), a pioneering, holistic enterprise whose aim is spiritual (non-religious) education. It comprises an eco-village with several communal buildings for workshops, housing, ethical shops and a hall used for conferences and performances. Spiritual is an inspirational example to other communities. It had around five hundred permanent and volunteer members at the time of research, and thousands of people visit them each year. It is set up as a non-profit charity with a body of trustees, and is holistically devoted to sustainability through its energy windmills, organic sewage system, eco-housing and local exchanges fostered through its own community currency and bank. Stone-Hall (pseudonym) is also committed to holistic education. Its education centre is run by a resident cooperative group and administered by a trust. They are committed to environmental goals, rear livestock, grow vegetables, recycle, have their own water spring, reed-bed sewage, composting system and wood burners. All members work full-time for the community. Sunny-Valley Community (pseudonym) and its eleven members celebrated the community’s 10th anniversary in 2004. It is also a co-housing cooperative based in a shared house on rural land with members sharing maintenance responsibilities. Their ethos has a strong ecological focus and respect for diversity. They have good links with the local village, organize the local composting scheme and take part in the local community currency scheme. Finally, Woodland (pseudonym) is a rural co-housing initiative formed some thirty years ago. It had fifty-eight members at the time of research, and volunteers supplement the community. Spaces were communal with shared kitchen, laundry, library and other social rooms. Common values included self-sufficiency, cooperative living and low environmental impact.
Appears in Collections:Business and Management
Brunel Business School Research Papers

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