Can we shop our way to a better world?

Muhammad, Umair
Date Written:  2016-04-20
Publisher:  Climate and Capitalism
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX19303

In this article Umair Mohammad summarizes arguments from the introduction and first chapter of his book Confronting Injustice: Social Activism in the Age of Individualism. Mohammad argues that lifestyle change and 'ethical consumerism' are not bridges to effective social change, but barriers to it. To build effective social movements, he says, we must begin by rejecting individualist approaches.



Precisely at a time when we need it most, bold and imaginative activism has made itself difficult to find. It is not the case that activism in general is in short supply. One finds, in fact, that activist ideals and vocabulary have securely made their way into everyday life. But this has happened in a way that has left society fundamentally unchanged. By contrast, the messages communicated by activists have been distorted and have regularly found themselves being used to reinforce the social realities they were originally devised to change.


The watering down, emptying out, and distortion of activist ideals has been helped along by activists. For one thing, we have too often been willing to ignore the social dimensions of the problems that confront us, believing instead in the idea that the actions of autonomous individuals have led us to our current impasse. Confronting Injustice offers a corrective to this faulty outlook. In the book, I argue that social realities, in particular those created to meet the needs of our economic system, constrain and direct the actions of individuals. It is these social realities, therefore, that must attract most of our attention when we struggle to create change even when reorienting the behaviour of individuals happens to be our ultimate aim.

Living within a social system dominated by the market, it is no coincidence that so many of us have adopted an individualist outlook. The routine of market exchange between individuals who are driven by self-interest has conditioned us to see human society as a collection of disconnected and primarily self-interested individuals. What is troubling is that so many activists have reconciled themselves to this vision of society, and have set about working to reinforce its presence. They have come to champion the values and features of the existing arrangement. In other words, those who have set out to change things are instead working to keep them from changing.

Subject Headings

Insert T_CxShareButtonsHorizontal.html here