REVIEW

Engin E Isin and Guy Kirby Letts

Globalization and Consumer Citizenship
A Review of
Canclini, Nestor Garcia. 200 1 . Consumers and Citizens: Globalization and Multicultural Conflicts. Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota Press.

While Consumers and Citizens is an interesting pastiche of insightful observations, overall it is disappointing. W take Canclini at his word when he states, "This book e stands halfway between a research study and a collection of essays" (33). According to Canclini, the book is the outgrowth of empirical studies on cultural consumption and his own personal position on various polemics regarding urban cultures (33). The combination, however, results in a work fraught with internal tensions that lacks rigour. Canclini's work attempts to understand how globalization has changed the modes of consumption and, in turn, altered the possibilities and forms for citizenship in multicultural societies. As his object of study, Canclini examines globalization and the hegemonic tendencies of the urbanization and industrialization of culture in Latin American cities (3). For, Canclini claims, Latin America's intensitled dependency on the US is currently transforming citizenship and consumer roles are inadequate (5). Relations between citizens and consumers, says Canclini, are reflected in the complexity of globalized economic, technological, and cultural changes restricting the constitution of traditional identities through national symbols: For many men and women ... the questions specitlc to citizenship, such as how we inform ourselves and who represents our interests, are answered more often than not through private consumption of commodities and media offerings than through the abstract rules of democracy or through participation in discredited political organizations. (5)

Such an assumption neglects the multiple social dynamics of consumption (see du Gay 1996. According to Canclini. or that consumption contributes to the "integrative and communicative rationality of a society" (40). Canclini cites Renato Ortiz's findings that "the intellectuals of corporate globalization foster universalization by exploiting the coincidences in thought and taste in all societies" (93). then. to conclude that the "symbolic and aesthetic aspects of the rationality of consumption" (40).. These shifts in the modes of consumption lead Canclini to conclude that consumption is "a site that is good for thinking" (5). but not only in keeping with modem rationality.For Canclini. and other goods through consumption (5). Canclini's emphasis on the rational virtues of consumption is juxtaposed with his criticism of postmodern accounts that see consumption as the dispersion of signs and the destabilization of shared codes (4043). Slater 1997). W might conclude. Such assertions are not only reminiscent of earlier "sovereign consumption" arguments (see Fiske 1987. Miller 1998. [c]onsumption is good for thinking. 1991. and political unity. Canclini suggests that apocalyptic criticisms of consumption are only partially correct: I 6 01 130 . linguistic. "Coca-Colawas only able to make profits in the Spanish market when it shortened its bottles to the size of other soft drinks in the country . in Canclini 94).. sees consumption as a means of redirecting practices of citizenship. when they attempt to act as rational citizens. According to Ortiz. 1996. what he calls interpretive communities of consumers (159). consumption has not become fully rational either. While globalization has changed the modes of consumption. 1989. Not even parties and social movements have succeeded working exclusively this way. that the problems entailed in e the transition from public to the citizen are not very different from those experienced by party or union militants ."(qtd. but leave us asking whether subtle regional differences accommodated by Euro-American corporatism are actually multicultural and a form of cultural levelling. it is a leap. Canclini does not advocate the erratic eruption of desire (41) but rather. Willis 1990). which now includes rights to housing. Edgell et al. While it is not possible to generalize the consequences for citizenship through increased consumption. health. (160) ~ Canclini claims that consumption is not merely a setting f o "useless expenditures and irrational impulses" (5). but atomized communities based on symbolic consumption. this is not the depoliticization of liberal democracy but marks a shift in the political notion of citizenship. education. This prompts Canclini to conclude "that a recognition of multicultural differences does not disappear . in our view. which provides the basis for shared identities (159).... though he never outlines why consumption is good for thinking or how the rationality of consumption is linked to the constitution of identity and altered forms of citizenship. Though Canclini does mention the social interaction of commodities found in symbolic distinction and rituals (4042).. and that "Nations and ethnic formations continue to exist" through "cultural leveling" (94). Canclini observes that civil societies are no longer national communities based on territorial." under corporate globalization.

Canclini continues to construct a global~local dichotomy throughout the book. his definition of citizenship is undeveloped. Policy initiatives in this direction are intended to alter forms of citizenship and regulate the increased consumption of goods and services in Latin America. Canclini's promise to draw on new empirical studies regarding cultural consumption in Mexico (6. gender. Canclini ignores the social problems of Euro-American consumer societies (such as suicide. 33) is overstated and disappointing. While we define citizenship to be "both a set of practices (cultural. According to Canclini. sundered by urban sprawl or delegitimized by the loss of authority by parties and churches. even among marginal groups. seems overly ambitious and reckless in terms of the unintended consequences that such policies would create. which is still an active site for political struggle. Canclini believes the market now does so through the medium of consumption (22). In this way. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Canclini's work is the redefinition of fundamentalism. depression. Canclini proposes the regulation of commodities and consumption (4546). Whereas the state provided the framework for a variety of forms for public life participation. the former being "qualitative" and the latter being "quantitative" disciplines (49-51). and addiction) seeing them instead as models for consumer citizenship in Latin America.These criticisms are partially correct. who are better informed about national and international conditions. Throughout the book. This project. however. Canclini sees the inherent problems with unrestricted consumption under globalization but believes it can be used to reconceptualize social interaction. Though Canclini's book focuses on consumers and citizenship. symbolic and economic) and a bundle of rights and duties (civil. This dichotomization is also mirrored in his imaginary distinction between anthropology and sociology. and at other times circuits where social bonds. Canclini downplays the role of juridical-political citizenship in liberal democratic states. Imaginary communities are sometimes "scenes" that make evasion possible. are reconstituted. political and social) that define an individual's membership in a polity" (Isin and Wood 1999:4). eating disorders. However. 58-60). the dissatisfaction with juridical-political notions of citizenship has led to forms of cultural citizenship as well as citizenship defined by race. (159-60) In order to articulate consumption with a reflexive exercise of citizenship. Canclini focuses almost exclusively on cultural consumption as a set of practices that shape the sphere of citizenship (22). His over-reliance on the work of Appadurai and his citation of Grossberg's Cultural Studies (1992) as a representative work on contemporary consumption illustrates this point (8). and ecology (22). which creates a nega- 4 0) - g 131 . Canclini overemphasizes consumption as a means of deep political transformation at the expense of a more varied approach that would utilize both consumption and juridical-political forms as a means of redressing citizenship. Despite an engagement with the notion of glocalization ( 3 4 . citizenship and postcolonialism. but the expansion of communications and consumption generates associations of consumers and social struggles. one is struck by the absence of contemporary literature related to the study of consumption. which would act as the basis for a culturally integrated supranational federalism in Latin America (47).

eds. Willis. 1997. reserving all virtues for themselves and blaming others for the problem of development" (11). 0 - 5 -. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. . Miller. 1996. and Alan Warde. a theme that runs throughout the book (3. Common culture. 1996. Oxford: Blackwell. Lawrence. 1989. London: Sage. 1998. Isin. References du Gay. Boston: Unwin Hyrnan. 1987. . Paul. Consumption matters: The production and experience of consumption. Wood. 1993.tive perception of marginalized peoples whom he sees as "indigenous and nationalist movements that interpret history in a Manichaean manner. Edgell. fundamentalist. Engin F and Patrica K. Power plays.32 Grossberg. New York and London: Routledge. . 71. London: Sage. Canclini's romantic and nostalgic notion of the European city (6-7) andfldnerte (80-82). Cultural studies. Consumer culture and modernity. Don R. power works. and authoritarian reinforces the idea that inequality is a form of multiculturalism. 1992. Stephen. London: Methuen. London and New York: Verso. I -. Paul. Understanding popular culture. Canclini's view that the subaltern is undemocratic. A theory of shopping. Canclini's conception of consumer citizenship as Latin America becoming a part of the multicultural globalization seems to undercut his own argument that globalization is not the triumph of "one way thinking" nor the end of ideological diversity (3). Kevin Hetherington. 138-44). Television culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Like the intellectuals he cites in globalization that exploit the thought and taste of other societies. 1990. Citizenship and identity. John. 1999. dogmatic. London: Polity Press. Fiske. Daniel. as well as his love affair with European rationalism and Western consumerism undermines metropolitan multiculturalism and the emergence of an autonomous Latin American hybrid cultural formation. Cary Nelson. and Paula Treichler. Slater. Consumption and identity at work.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful