maxresdefaultWaste and Want: Understanding Consumption
Carolyn Taratko and J’Nese Williams

This seminar and film series is designed to encourage participants to confront the themes of consumption and status anxiety on the Vanderbilt campus, in modern America, and in the world at large. Though many of us consider natural habitat loss, fossil fuel use, non-biodegradable waste, and pollution as environmental concerns, few people think about Christmas shopping or the yearly Apple release through an environmental lens. Yet an examination of consumption habits and norms is critical to any sort of ecological awareness. We affect the environment not only in the creation of garbage (“waste”), but also through the impulse to acquire new things in our consumer culture (“want”). We hope that by generating discussion, we can encourage members of the Vanderbilt community to be more mindful on both fronts.

The goal of “Waste and Want” is to spark consciousness raising dialogue through a series of on-campus discussions centered upon film screenings and selected readings. Our series aims to reach across disciplines and bring together graduate students, faculty, and undergraduates to examine consumption and open up a conversation on its attendant problems. Our readings and films will move from broad examination of consumer culture to single issues, from the environmental feasibility of the spread of a Western style of living, to textile production and disposable fashion. By talking about the historical development of our consumer culture within a group, we can all become more aware of our responses to the messages of the marketplace. A great deal of consumption is driven by emotions, and our wants are often shaped by our desire to project a certain image to others (status anxiety).  We hope that the seminar meetings will lead to self-examination and personal change, which could be shared with and supported by the seminar group. Together, we can be a counterweight to the influence of consumer culture.