One City

shopping image_no_small.jpgby Kirsten Firminger

I am finally collecting data for my dissertation. It is focused on people living in New York City who have voluntarily chosen to buy less. I launched the survey last Thursday and I am already amazed at the responses I have gotten. Being able to hear about the variety of goals, motivations, and experiences that different people have had is such a privilege and so very fascinating. I can’t wait to hear from more people (obligatory promo: if you live in NYC and have voluntarily chosen to buy less, you can link here to the Buying Less in NYC Survey).

Since I have finally reached this critical stage in my dissertation research, it has led me to look back at how it started for me. I entered my social psychology program thinking that I was going to focus on issues related to gender roles and norms. For my second year project (equivalent of a master’s thesis), I looked at how masculinity was portrayed in teenage girls magazines. What came across in the magazines as strongly as gender norms, was how much these norms where tied into selling products. The underlying need to sell advertising space and integrate sponsors into the content of the magazine articles was overwhelming. It turns out that a girl can’t have her first kiss without the right brand of lip gloss on hand. That is when I turned a page and began studying consumption, branding, and marketing.

After a couple of years of being overwhelmed by research into the
psychology of consumption, I was left feeling a lot of despair. Much of
the writing had a negative tone when it came to individuals’ ability to
have any control, understanding, or voice in this world of
“consumerism”. I wanted to seek out alternative voices and experiences,
both personally and academically, which found new ways to deal with all
the consumption that was going on around us.

That began my academic adventure into researching reduced
consumption and my personal journey of living a life of buying less,
both of which continue to evolve. The coolest part has been finding out
about all the different people and organizations that are out there
addressing this topic in their own way. Not only is it national figures
like No Impact Man, Rev. Billy and the Church of Life after Shopping, Rob Walker and organizations such as the New American Dream, and that are out there. It is also local people and groups like the Brooklyn Green Team, GreenEdgeNYC, Bags for the People, and the Fixers’ Collective. It is even what brought me to the Interdependence Project.
Last, but not least, it is the people I run into in daily life who have
things to say about choosing to buy less. We all bring something of our
own to the table, whether it is ideas, skills, compassion, networking,
or politicking, it all contributes to creating where we go next in
unexpected and surprising ways. And that, to me, is what makes this
worth doing.

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