Law in Contemporary Society
Jessica, I used the rewrite you created on this page to make edits on the page of my original essay, KalliopeKefallinosSecondPaper. I originally was going to edit from this page, but I found it confusing to coordinate and was furthermore saddened at the loss of my original links on this page. Nonetheless, I wanted to explain why I decided to go/ not go with some of your suggestions on my rewrite, so you will find those explanations below. Thanks!

I plan to use Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption and waste to locate what I take to be the problems central to two of the present day's largest "pro-world" phenomena, the organic food and international adoption movements. I will then propose de-objectification as a possible step in an alleviating direction for both cases.

Organic Food Movement

Environmental sociologist Gill Seyfang distinguishes between multiple perspectives towards organic food, one of which she calls the "hierarchist" approach. Hierarchists buy organic products as a way to signal to others that they "[have] the good sense and discrimination (and wealth) to choose high quality food with a premium price tag." This perhaps explains why smartly dressed men and women file into Whole Foods in the middle of the winter to fill their reusable bags with organic avocados shipped in from Mexico at $2.49 each.

Veblen argues that through a psychological process of emulation, lower classes emulate the consumption patterns of higher classes. Assuming emulation carries over into food, the lower classes should be following the lead of the higher classes and buying organic, even if doing so requires them to spend beyond their means. And yet, this has not been the case. Veblen would likely say that the lower classes are trying to maximize the status-giving potential of their limited resources, and that food, being less visible than bling or a BMW, is simply not the most waste-efficient choice.

Now, if the goal of the organic movement is simply to promote "Slow Food," then perhaps treating organic food like an Hermes Birkin handbag is permissible. If the goal, however, is to change all Americans’ eating habits for the better, the organic movement as currently practiced cannot be the answer. Currently, only a subset of Americans choose to opt for the more expensive, supposedly higher quality organic food. It remains doubtful that such consumption actually leads to better health, and more importantly, lower and middle class Americans are making food purchasing choices that reflect a desire to maximize their “Waste-efficiency” rather than simply maximizing their health. The organic movement continues to gain popularity, and yet, it is doubtful that anyone is actually eating any healthier.

I decided not to include this suggestion in my revision. I believe it opens another can of worms-- that is, you are questioning the extent to which organic food is in fact "better," while my argument assumes it is better and questions why more people are not eating organic. This does not mean that I do not agree with the point you are trying to make: there has been a lot of debate recently about what it means exactly for a food item to be labeled "organic" under USDA regulations.

International Adoption Movement

The most significant edit I felt you made in this section was to eliminate all of the sources I had included in my original essay. This seems to conflict with your comments on KalliopeKefallinosSecondPaper, in which you suggested that I did not have enough facts to support my conclusions. In any event, I decided taking out all my sources left the reader with insufficient context to understand my argument/ the severity of the adoption problem. Accordingly, on revision I tried to find a happy medium. You will notice I deleted the Dorow source, which describes how some adoptive parents bring "wrongful adoption" suits when they discover the child they adopted has "defects." I also got rid of the Landsman source, which compares the adoption market to the used car market. I included them because I found them very interesting when I came across them in my research, but I see the value in streamlining them out.

The second phenomenon I want to present through the eyes of Veblen is the current international adoption movement. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of international adoptions in the U.S., from approximately 6,000 children in 1994 to over 20,000 in 2005. Adopting a child from abroad attracts the same hierarchists as the organic food movement—that is, members of the American higher classes eager to display their "good sense." A woman on the UES juggling a Birkin in one hand and a Cambodian child on the other, for example, is sending the subtle signal that she cares enough (and has enough money) to save the world’s children.

As philanthropic as this trend might seem, it actually runs counter to the goals of finding homes for orphans. The majority of children in need, both domestically and abroad, are being sidelined for the physical and psychological “defects” resulting from the neglect of their circumstance, as eager Angelinas wait in line to scoop up the few untarnished babies. Wealthy Americans are essentially using weak countries as baby factories—instead of adopting the children that are available, they demand a subset of newborns from out of the country. This demand is creating a new market, where poor families have an incentive to give up healthy newborns for money. Of course, Veblen would say this is predictable, at least insofar as it is certainly more wasteful to demand a new supply of healthy newborns than to simply adopt the supply already available.

If the goal of adoption is to find families for children, perhaps this conspicuous consumption aspect of international adoption would be permissible—emulation could lead to more adoptions which would translate into more children saved. The problem is that the goal of international adoption as practiced today has shifted to finding children for families. Specifically, the market for international adoption is primarily for healthy newborns. The newborn has becomes an object of commerce for the psychological benefit of the wealthy American, and the actual orphans (both domestically and abroad) are for the most part being left behind for newborns. Because of this trend, emulation by the lower classes would most likely run counter to the traditional goals of adoption.


Thus far, I have attempted to use Veblen to expose what I take to be the underlying problems in two current social phenomena, the organic food and international adoption movements. Initially, the fact that the two cases can be understood as forms of conspicuous consumption seems to open up the possibility of positive change—the higher classes are engaging in a type of conduct, the emulation of which would appear to promote the greater good in the long-run: more people eating organic food, and more orphans finding homes. Unfortunately, this is not true in either case. The lower classes are not eating healthier, and the children in most need of being adopted are being left behind in favor of healthy newborns.

One solution to the problems posed by these two forms of conspicuous consumption might be to de-objectify food and children through education. For example, in food education, we could focus more on teaching people to truly care about what they eating, where it comes from, and how it is produced. As for children, we could focus on exposing the underlying reality which is making international adoption such a booming market—the socioeconomic and political tensions between the powerful and the vulnerable, the rich and the poor, the West and the Third World. Surely we would find that it is not just the children of these countries who are being treated as mere instruments or vehicles for conspicuous consumption and its resulting waste.

-- JessicaGuzik - 19 Jun 2010


Webs Webs

r2 - 04 Jul 2010 - 19:13:09 - KalliopeKefallinos
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM