People, Planet, Purchasing Power
by Amy Domini
In Culture and Consumption, Canadian cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken introduced the concept of the Diderot effect, the unintentional transformation a simple acquisition sets in motion.
In “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown,” French Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot bemoaned the sorry state of his life, the result of a gift of an elegant red dressing gown from a well-meaning friend.
The dressing gown had been so fine that he had replaced his straw chair with one covered in Moroccan leather. He had replaced his prints along with his desk and updated his study. This improvement process went on until one day he felt unwelcome in his own study. He had become a slave to a level of fashion befitting his new dressing gown and regretted it.
It may seem a silly story, but we sense its rightness. And I would argue it gives us a special insight. Perhaps some types of consumption are positive change agents.
Consumption is an enormously influential force. It affects behavior patterns of individuals at the personal level in such a way that whole societies are transformed. When anthropologists attempt to open communications with a jungle tribe, they leave pots and other goods the tribe finds useful and values. The door is opened. We know this. Now we must harness it. Read the entire article.
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