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Somebody Else’s Problem

Consumerism, Sustainability and Design

Consumerism promises a shortcut to a 'better' life through the accumulation of certain fashionable goods and experiences. Over recent decades, this has resulted in a rising tide of cheap, short-lived goods produced, used and discarded in increasingly rapid cycles, along the way depleting resources and degrading environmental systems.

Somebody Else’s Problem calls for a radical change in how we think about our material world, and how we design, make and use the products and services we need. Rejecting the idea that individuals alone are responsible for the environmental problems we face, it challenges us to look again at the systems, norms and values we take for granted in daily life, and their cumulative role in our environmental crisis.

Robert Crocker presents an overview of the main forces giving rise to modern consumerism, looks closely at today’s accelerating consumption patterns and asks why older, more ‘custodial’ patterns of consumption are in decline. Avoiding simplistic quick-fix formulas, the book explores recommendations for new ways of designing, making and using goods and services that can reduce our excess consumption, but still contribute to a good and meaningful life.

Robert Crocker has written a stunning and provocative book – one of the best books on design, consumption and waste I have read in recent years. The reader is rewarded with a convincing argument, thoughtful observations and valuable reflections on human behavior. He shows convincingly that neither technological innovation alone, nor the operation of the market, can fix our environmental crisis unless we face the larger problem of consumerism. Bravo!

Maria Cecilia Loschiavo dos Santos, Professor of Design, School of Architecture and Urbanism, University of São Paulo, Brazil

Somebody Else’s Problem is a timely and provocative critique of the "inherently escalatory" nature of contemporary consumerism. Robert Crocker argues persuasively that the failure of consumerism to deliver its promise of a good life is rooted in the lack of an "end point" at which consumers feel that they acquired enough. This suggests a moral dilemma and yet, far from pointing a critical finger at consumers, the author recognises that the problem is "collective, social and global" and should lead to reflection upon how the world around us has been designed. He thus exposes the profound responsibility of the designer to contribute to the reshaping of societal values and goals.

Tim Cooper, Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption, Nottingham Trent University

Robert Crocker's new book confronts consumerism head-on and tackles the difficult questions elegantly and convincingly. His arguments and insights are informed and contribute to a deeper understanding of how design, sustainability and marketing inter-relate to create some of the most complex challenges the world is currently facing. The book is particularly valuable for addressing the historical dimensions of our current crisis, and framing the big imperatives for design in relation to sustainability and consumption.

Somebody Else's Problem is a must-read text for students and educators of all disciplines ... including design, marketing, environment and business. This landmark publication highlights where we must intervene in order to achieve a sustainable future, and as a result is solution-oriented. Robert Crocker has made a significant contribution to the critical debate on production and consumption. A very timely addition towards solving one of the planet's most pressing imperatives.

John Gertsakis, Vice President, Global Product Stewardship Council

In this fascinating book, Crocker uncovers, explains and rethinks the connections between design, consumerism and the escalating destruction of our social and ecological world.

Jonathan Chapman, Professor of Sustainable Design, University of Brighton

Until now, students of the Masters of Sustainable Design at UniSA have been the sole beneficiaries of the knowledge and insight distilled into this book on contemporary consumption: what forces drive it and what can re-direct it for a more sustainable future. It deservedly now finds a wider audience.

Peter Newton, Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism, Swinburne University of Technology

Foreword by Stuart Walker  

Introduction: The problem with consumerism

Part 1: From consumption to consumerism

1. Pleasure and luxury in consumption

Pleasure in consumption
Deception and choice in consumerism
The idea of luxury
The democratization of luxury
Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress
Somebody and nobody 

2. Imitation in design and consumption

Imitation and global trade
Adaptive imitation in design
Consumption and imitation
From imitation to hyper-consumption

3. Vision and ideology in design and consumption

The rise of the consumer citizen
Design, vision and ideology
William Morris’s gospel of work
Shaping the ideal home through design
Inside the ‘design factory’

4. Enabling systems in consumption

Systems and their sunk-cost effects
The freedom of the road
The dream of flight
Individualization and substitution
Learning from pedestrians

Part 2: The escalation of consumption

5. Comparison, competition and consumerism

The fifties syndrome
The newcomers
Comparison and competition
Managing product value
Space inflation

6. Technology and acceleration

Founding myths
From augmentation to control
The high cost of optimization
A Revolution in Time
From the digital to the ‘physible’

7. The consumption of nature

From the gardens of childhood
Understanding ‘nature’
Nature as idea
The conquest of nature
Telling stories about nature
Nature as perfection
Natural Zombies

Part 3: Towards sustainable consumption

8. Learning from the past

What is ‘sustainable consumption’?
Enabling the good life
My father’s books
Custodian consumption
Towards the throwaway society

9. Values, goals and time

Catching up with debt
The heart of the dilemma
A self-centred society
Learning to play the flute
Rediscovering the land

10. From post-caution to precaution

The post-cautionary principle
Asking questions first
The many uses of co-creation
Co-creation through living labs
Locating the precautionary
Towards sustainable consumption

Conclusion

ROBERT CROCKER is Deputy Director of the China Australia Centre for Sustainable Urban Development. He teaches the history and theory of design and design for sustainability at the University of South Australia.

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