In Times of the Technoculture, my old boss Frank Webster argued that current info society trends in the capitalist economy are largely the logical extension of trends that have been around more or less since the birth of capitalism. Specifically, Taylorism brought scientific management to the workplace, with surveillance and discipline hand in hand; but there were full on plans (through an organisation of engineers and capitalists called ‘The New Machine’) to take those advances in efficiency into the realms of politics and society where a (positive) form of social control was expected to make life generally more pleasant. Using the new information techniques to keep track of mass consumption they started to do market research and develop scientific principles of advertising. (ref: HC Link, 1932, The New Psychology of Selling and Advertising)
“In a paean to American productivism, David Potter suggests that ‘advertising [is] an instrument of social control'; it is, he continues, ‘the only institution which we have for instilling new needs, for training people to act as consumers, for alterning men’s values, and thus for hastening their adjustment to potential abundance’.” (Potter, 1954; quoted in Robins & Webster, 1999: 97)
So, here we have a claim that consumerism is not in any way natural, but needs to be inculcated, a belief in the coming abundance of capitalism, and a valorisation of the advertisers’ abilities to change people’s values, all wrapped up in one tidy quote! The ‘New Machine’ certainly has plenty of momentum, but now we’re beginning to realise that there really are limits to growth and market expansion we need some development akin to advertising for altering values and thus hastening their adjustment to potential scarcity – who’s going to take on that job? Could that be what Tesco are up to with the Institute for Sustainable Consumption Institute?