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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Governmentalization of “Lifestyle” and the Biopolitics of Carbon

  • Author(s): Lipschutz, Ronnie D.
  • et al.

The search for a sustainable civilization—an essential concomitant of dealing with global warming—will be driven, in part, by the “normalization” of a low-carbon lifestyle. To date, most research and discussion of this transition have centered on technological fixes and their psychological equivalent, “getting prices right.” Although both approaches seem to point to reduced levels of consumption as a result of more “efficient” processes and practices, neither really addresses the material and cognitive changes associated with the “low-throughput” economy (along the lines of what Herman Daly called the “steady-state economy) that is likely to follow from the current economic downturn and the need for drastic reductions in carbon-burning. More specifically, there is a glaring contradiction between the impetus for high rates of economic growth and the major modifications of “lifestyle” necessitated by environmental crisis.

“Lifestyle” is usually approached as an individual attribute: each of us has preferences, linked to basic needs and “expressive functions,” which we seek to fulfill through “choices in the market.” This disregards both the societal and regulative aspects of lifestyle, the first conditioned by subjectivities shaped through socialization from an early age into class, nation, ethnicity, identity, and other groups, the second by the governmentalization of consumption through advertising and other forms of preference-shaping, which serve to link lifestyle to “identities.” In other words, if “we are what we consume,” it is the regulation of “who we are” that will determine not only “what we consume” but also “whether we survive.”

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