Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times

Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times

Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times

Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times


Buying (RED) products--from Gap T-shirts to Apple--to fight AIDS. Drinking a "Caring Cup" of coffee at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to support fair trade. Driving a Toyota Prius to fight global warming. All these commonplace activities point to a central feature of contemporary culture: the most common way we participate in social activism is by buying something.

Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser have gathered an exemplary group of scholars to explore this new landscape through a series of case studies of "commodity activism." Drawing from television, film, consumer activist campaigns, and cultures of celebrity and corporate patronage, the essays take up examples such as the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign, sex positive retail activism, ABC's Extreme Home Makeover, and Angelina Jolie as multinational celebrity missionary.

Exploring the complexities embedded in contemporary political activism, Commodity Activism reveals the workings of power and resistance as well as citizenship and subjectivity in the neoliberal era. Refusing to simply position politics in opposition to consumerism, this collection teases out the relationships between material cultures and political subjectivities, arguing that activism may itself be transforming into a branded commodity.


The sense of a crucial historical shift is a key structure of feeling of our times. Upheaval, restructuring, shift, and dramatic social and economic change are not only the prevailing contemporary discourses but also likely to be how our moment in time will be characterized historically in the future. While modernity’s upheaval created a sense of instability and unrootedness, in the contemporary intersection of neoliberalism and digital media, the boundaries between culture and the economic have been redrawn in dramatically new and consequential ways. So many aspects of our society, including formerly unquestioned solid social institutions such as finance, politics, education, newspapers, magazines, art criticism, the music and other culture industries, are in such upheaval that the feeling of rapid social change, both traumatic and liberating, is rampant. Boundary crossing is a common theme of contemporary understandings of these upheavals—the traversing of national boundaries through information technologies, the mixing of genres, the traffic between art and consumerism, the erosion of distinctions of popular and high culture. Key among these is the boundary crossing of commodity culture/consumerism and activism/social resistance. The uniquely pervasive quality of contemporary consumerism and the transformation of the category of cultural/social resistance are crucial shifts that have transformed social life, cultural consumption and production, politics, and people’s daily lives to an unprecedented degree. Yet, as always, understandings of these social shifts have tended to lag behind the daily experience of them, and our language for describing them seems ever out-of-date.

This volume, Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times, intervenes into this unstable terrain in ways that enable us to see the stakes involved in understanding these social shifts. What happens when the boundaries between brand culture, commodity culture, activism, and humanitarianism are blurred? What is resistance today, and what are the stakes in our capacity to define resistance? What do new modes of . . .

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