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Back to the future: The re-emergence of authentic lifestyles in response to the alienating effects of contemporary capitalism

This project was written to identify the social forces that were behind the emergence of eco-locally based grass-roots initiatives that have emerged in recent times. It was found that they were formed in response to the alienation inherent in contemporary capitalism, without attempting to directly challenge its dominance. The project begins by identifying alienation as the predominant negative effect of capitalist societies, focussing on its beginnings, meanings and development through to contemporary times. While alienation was originally associated with factory production and waged work, over time it has come to colonise and expand its reach to include consumption as well as production activities. There is particular attention paid to enclosure, as the mechanism by which people are alienated, that is, the way are dispossessed of their physical and social resources. Attention has also been given to how the alienating and dominating tendencies of capitalism have been intensified by the ascendency of neo-liberal capitalism and the societal focus on economic expansion. Alienation related to food production and consumption are also studied in some depth because of the centrality of food in individuals’ alienated experience and the priority placed on food provision by those who choose to adopt an alternative lifestyle. Since the impact of the capitalist system on contemporary human social relationships is so pervasive, the focus turns to pre-industrial societal structure as a comparison. While the structure of society in this era was strictly hierarchical, there was great value put on interdependent social relationships, with much effort put into forging and maintaining social bonds. The discussion shows that compared to contemporary society there was also much less emphasis given to the separation between different aspects of everyday life, such as work and leisure. Since both work and leisure activities were typically labour intensive, time spent by community members working and playing together served to strengthen and reaffirm authentic community relationships. With the rise of capitalism such authentic lifestyles were to diminish and capitalism came to dominate in both the social and economic systems. The recent constructs of localism and eco-localism are investigated, with particular notice given to eco-locally based initiatives which are alleviating alienation and in the process, are moving into the mainstream consciousness of capitalist society. This discussion demonstrates that there are linkages and strong resemblances between them and the authentic social and productive relationships of pre-industrial society and that they have arisen as a result of the increasingly alienating effects of globalised capitalism.
Type of thesis
Galbraith, D. (2011). Back to the future: The re-emergence of authentic lifestyles in response to the alienating effects of contemporary capitalism (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5765
University of Waikato
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