For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

East Meets West

With China rapidly emerging as leading global economy, questions of how East and West encounter one another form the basis of numerous texts such as Martin Jacques' recent When China Rules the World and Scott Lash et al's Global China. Within this burgeoning genre can be found an obscure but potentially seminal text by the consumer sociologist Colin Campbell, Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural change in the Modern Age.

Colin Campbell is best known within consumer research for his 1985 landmark The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. By contrast his more recent Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural change in the Modern Age (2007) has yet to exert such impact although, I submit, it holds the potential to be an even more significant work. Campbell returns to the Weberian mode of analysis of the Romantic Ethic but this time the focus is on the Western imagination of Eastern spirituality and its impact in shifting Western ethics.

Max Weber

For Campbell a core conceptual basis for his project emanates from his reading of Weber and the idea of ‘worldview’, a term which Weber used instead of ‘culture’, and relates to a human need to conceive of the world as a meaningful cosmos. Campbell states that no religious worldview can be entirely satisfactory in meeting the basic human need for meaning and this produces tension. Further, there is an inherent drive towards a systematizing and rationalizing of any worldview. Critically, Campbell argues that rationalizing can take one of only two directions and that these are logically, not empirically, derived hence Campbell acknowledges that what is being theorised are ideal-typical religious orientations and that there have always been elements of the East in the West and vice-versa. It is also important to note, as Campbell does, that the social and economic circumstances that people find themselves in will affect the kind of meanings that people need.

Colin Campbell

The first direction that rationalization of worldview can take is that ultimate reality becomes envisaged as a separate form above or beyond this world, which becomes increasingly profane in distinction: “these alternatives tend to result in the first case in the postulation of a personal god who transcends the world he created and who intends the resolution of all discrepancy by establishing a “Kingdom of God on Earth” at some future time”. (p12). This rationalization is identified as being the direction followed by the major western religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The second rationalization typifies religions of the East:

“... the postulation of an immanent divine principle, which working itself out over millennia through a moral mechanism involving the transmigration of souls, will also eventually achieve closure once all life has progressed through to the highest level of unity with the “all-soul”. (p12)

Hence we are provided with two worldviews that give rise to the meanings and ethics that we find with Western thought identified as predicated on the idea of an external ultimate reality whilst the East is predicated on the idea of immanent divinity. An important clarification is needed to say that for Campbell the ‘East’ at stake is actually the West’s image of the East, or perhaps a Western alter-ego available for anybody alienated from the Western system, and is not, therefore, an authentic form of cultural importation. Campbell’s core argument is that a shift in worldview has taken place and that we are now amidst an era of Easternization: “it concerns fundamental changes in the dominant worldview that prevails in the West, and as such changes that are apparent in all areas of life, including religion certainly but also medicine, the arts, political thought and even science. In that respect the Easternization thesis refers to a fundamental revolution in Western civilisation, one that can be compared in significance to the Renaissance, the Reformation or the Enlightenment” (p41). Concurrent with an Easternization of the West is, of course, the de-Westernisation of the West. The import of these claims is huge.

Over the course of Campbell’s text a series of instances of Easternization are provided. An example of the process, at a very basic level, is yoga. At first yoga is imported divested of its spiritual content –merely a means to achieve fitness and physiotherapy - however over time its spiritual dimension becomes re-inscribed amidst a general popularization of Zen,Taoism and other Eastern beliefs. Hence the tendency “to Westernize, that is to secularize it, (is) replaced by an acceptance of its essentially spiritual nature” (p35). Of course the process of Easternization probes deeper than an embracement of yoga and over the course of several hundred pages, Campbell iterates the rise of the New Age as a major cultural transformation to Easternization with enormous consequences. Christianity becomes piece by piece re-packaged as a more Eastern friendly religion; the Devil disappears from theology, as does the idea of God as a “distant, awesome and terrifying judge” (p255) as indeed does the idea of the Bible as a text that needs to be read literally – as Campbell states the “form of Christianity that flourishes in the West today... bears a considerable resemblance to the New Age movement” (p345). Leftist politics are undermined as scepticism of religious dogma and orthodox doctrine spill over and so projects of social transformation turn away from institutional reform towards existentialism. Hence concerns with an excess of materialism, free sexual subjectivity and the notionally emancipated and non-alienated subject become more resonant; a “shift of the focus of radicalism in the West from the political to the cultural and quasi-spiritual realm” (p239). In science the shift is away from “old, classical Newtonian-style scientific worldview” of linear, uni-directional cause and effect towards a more associated holism; a self-organising system that is biological and organic rather than physical and mechanic, a reality that embraces consciousness, mind and intelligence. Across these various channels we see the same general Easternization processes at work consistent with a reconfiguration of culture according to alternative beliefs. For Campbell, this leads to a undermining of authority of the pillars of the West –politicians, scientists and religious leaders - who are forced into transformations in order to accommodate the new ethic. By contrast Campbell identifies rises in discourses that are consistent with immanent divinity and Easternization; the human potential movement, astrology, animal rights, ecology and so on.

The question, then, arises which forms the basis of Campbell’s text – how does a major cultural transformation take place? Intriguingly for consumer culture scholars, the cultural change takes place in popular consumption and he identifies England during the 1960s as the critical time which finally brought about, in real terms, a transformation that had been coming for centuries. For Campbell, transformation becomes possible when the existing system is no longer sufficient for a large group of people and so the case proved to be in the 1960s amongst divergent youth subcultures. To all-too rapidly summarise Campbell’s expanded argument, a convergence took place between disaffected youth subcultures in a 60s counterculture that was predicated on alternative philosophies of radical Eastern spirituality and Romanticism. Campbell argues that such was the explosive impact of this convergence – marked by the radical uprisings of 1968 (generally retrospectively understood as a youth culture war against alienation) – that the process of Easternization became entrenched.

Zizek, in bed

Campbell seeks to pre-empt critiques of Easternization as simply re-labelling postmodernity by arguing that, to the contrary, postmodernism is a misreading of Easternization. As he argues, much of the defining features such as ontological dualism, an emphasis on the orderliness and rational comprehensibility of the cosmos together with a distinct historical sense” (p361) are distinctive of the West rather than of modernity itself therefore a more accurate description would be post-Western rather than postmodern. Critique is indirectly provided by Zizek (2001) who seems to pre-empt Campbell by imagining Weber writing a book entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism - arguably the closest possible thing! For Zizek such a phenomenon is entirely reconcilable with the postmodern – in fact it represents the “ultimate postmodern irony” in that at the very moment that the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened within the European space by the onslaught of the “New Age Asiatic thought”, Taos itself is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism; a “perfect ideological supplement” (Zizek, 2001:p12). As such this “recourse to Taoism” offers the solution to coping with the acceleration of technological progress and social change. In this way Western Buddhism functions, according to Zizek, as a fetish: it does not resolve any problems raised by Western modernity but displaces the critique. Hence, the West continues in its productive and destructive capacity but rather than respond to the crises generated, the subject can “fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless the spectacle is – what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw” (p15). Of course as Campbell is working within a Weberian mode, the truth of such critiques are beside the point – the task is merely to arrive at a sociological analysis of practice rather to evaluate their intrinsic goodness; as Weber himself nicely put it “whoever wants a sermon should go to a conventicle” (p29).

In any case for consumer culture theory, in particular, the implications of Campbell’s thesis are immense. Not only does the text provide a systematic analysis of the contingencies of the sacred and the devotional but it locates such a fundamental transformation in culture at the very front-line of issues of interest to consumer researchers – hence the radical individuality, hedonism and experientialism, the return to nature, ritual, magic, drug consumption, aesthetics, ethical and green consumption, new forms of community and tribalism, the recurrence of romantic mythology, the idea of brands that are iconic, the identification of servicescapes as utopian, the sacred dimensions and more besides can be located within a larger system or worldview; arguably Campbell presents consumer culture theory with its missing link! Overall however, the import and relevance of Campbell’s text locate the spiritual dimension of consumption to be of critical importance to understanding the world and culture that we inhabit.

Campbell, Colin, 2005. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. London: Blackwell.
Campbell, Colin, 2008. The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the West. London: Paradigm Publishers.
Weber, Max. 2003. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Mineola: Dover Publications.
Zizek, Slavoj, 2001. On Belief. London: Routledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment