Consumption, Culture and Environment

Rebeca Rivera
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell


This course investigates why we consume the way we do, the environmental and social impacts of consumption, and examine possibilities for change. This course is a holistic and interdisciplinary survey of the study of consumption.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

Course Content:

The impacts of American consumption are linked to environmental problems and increased social inequality on a global scale. At the 1992 Earth Summit countries of the global South gained enough political power to bring Northern over-consumption to the forefront of the global environmental agenda. However, in the United States and other Northern countries sustainable consumption initiatives have not lived up to the expectations of the 1992 Earth Summit. This course will examine some of the reasons why issues of consumption have been difficult to address.
We cover a different topic related to consumption every week. However, in general we cover problems and tools to assess those problems in the beginning. In the middle we discuss why our society and individuals within our society consume the way we do. Towards the end of the course we talk about potential solutions.

The topics are: Ecological Footprints, Consumption and the Global Economy, Consumption and Justice, Consumption as a Social Act, Consumption and the Structure of Choices, Consumption and Capitalism, and Reaching Sustainablity

Course Goals:

1. To understand theories of consumption practices
2. To understand and apply ethnographic methods
3. To think critically and articulate issues related to consumption at the local, national, and global levels
4. To analyze your own consumption practices utilizing course material
5. To engage in thoughtful and respectful discourse around important topics
6. To facilitate class discussions: to develop discussion questions and facilitation skills that fosters a safe environment, student participation and the inclusion of multiple perspectives

Course Features:

Class sessions are a mixture of large and small group discussions, individual and group activities, short lectures and films.
*Weekly Reading Assignments
*Student Facilitated Discussions
*Individual Ethnographic Research
*Socratic Method
*Homework Assignments

Course Philosophy:

Critical Democratic Pedagogy: I see myself as a co-learner and facilitator of learning in this course. I believe that learning occurs when we are building on and sharing our experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. In order to learn about the world we need to understand our own biases as well as the perspectives and situations of other students and readings in this class. This class takes a critical approach to understanding the role of consumption in a sustainable society through the development of critical reading thinking and respectful dialogue. I value following student interests and needs as much as possible. This means that if you have a question or are interested in some aspect of the course content we may focus on your question or interest. I expect you to be open to and respectful of other experiences and perspectives, but most importantly to be critically reflective of your own perspectives and opinions. I do not expect you to agree with all the voices put forth in this class, but I ask that you will seek gain an understanding of other perspectives, ideas, and ways of thinking about the world.

Experiential Learning: I believe that learning also comes from direct hands-on experience and not just through reading about something. I incorporate experiential learning through the course project as well as through some in-class activities.



HS 280 02: Environment, Consumption & Culture (Acrobat (PDF) 295kB Jun28 11)

Teaching Materials:

BIS 393: Consumption and Sustainable Practices (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 37kB Jun28 11)

References and Notes: