Consider this paradox: Ecologists estimate that it would take three planets Earth to provide an American standard of living to the entire world. Yet it is that standard of living to which the whole world aspires.In Consuming Desires, award-winning writer and social commentator Roger Rosenblatt brings together a brilliant collection of thinkers and writers to shed light on the triumphs and tragedies of that disturbing paradox. The book represents a captivating salon, offering a rich and varied dialogue on the underlying roots of consumer culture and its pervasive impact on ourselves and the world around us. Each author offers a unique perspective, their layers of thoughts and insights building together to create a striking, multifaceted picture of our society and culture.Jane Smiley probes the roots of consumerism in the emancipation of women from household drudgery afforded by labor-saving devices and technological innovation; Alex Kotlowitz describes the mutual reinforcement of fashion trends as poor inner-city kids and rich suburban kids strive to imitate each other; Bill McKibben discusses the significance, and the irony, of defining yourself not by what you buy, but by what you don't buy.The essays range widely, but two ideas are central to nearly all of them: that consumption is driven by yearning and desire -- often unspoken, seemingly insatiable -- and that what prevents us from keeping our consumptive impulse in check is the western concept of self, the solitary and restless self, entitled to all it can pay for.As Rosenblatt explains in his insightful introduction: "Individualism and desire are what makes us great and what makes us small. Freedom is our dream and our enemy. The essays touch on these paradoxes, and while all are too nuanced and graceful to preach easy reform, they give an idea of what reform means, where it is possible, and, in some cases, where it may not be as desirable as it appears."
Most research on female labor migration in Thailand focuses on that country's infamous sex industry. Mary Beth Mills offers the first extended ethnographic analysis of rural women's movement into less visible occupations, paying particular attention to the hundreds of thousands of young women who fill the factories and sweatshops of the Bangkok metropolis. Mills follows the women as they travel from the village of Baan Naa Sakae to Bangkok, where they encounter new forms of consumption, new "modern" lifestyles, and a new sense of identity. She finds this rural-urban migration is more than a simple economic activity, but rather an elaborate process of cultural change.
Mills describes the environments from which these women left, as well as the urban landscape they now call home. Hence, she examines key aspects of rural Thai community life, such as local consumption practices, gender roles, and the familial tensions that are often the catalyst to labor migration. Then she focuses on the city and the underlying tensions of urban employment as migrants pursue newly imagined identities as modern women, while still upholding economic and moral responsibilities to rural kin.