9 min read

36. Consuming

Tracking the history of the consumer both in goods and education, and a lot of books and links.
36. Consuming
Photo by Mark König / Unsplash

Hello from the final hours of 2023. This month I did 3 weeks of work, then a week and a half in Tenerife (including Christmas) and then a few days just pottering around home.

I did take several books on holiday with me (too many in fact, I only got through half of them) and also came back to a few that had arrived in the post (hat tip Caroline Jarrett for pointing me towards Karen Shriver's 1997 book Dynamics in Document Design and the neglected field of information design). My general theme was on design, education, and government, meaning I got through Joanna Williams' Consuming Higher Education, and most of John Agar's The Government Machine. I also got through Susanna Lipcomb and Helen Carr's What Is History, Now?.

A recurring theme through all of these ones was the creation of the 'consumer' (and my goodness is December the month of consumerism?) While the idea of a 'consumer' became a thing for goods in the early 20th century USA (often, interestingly, noted as women) it then became a part of rhetoric relating to UK higher education in the late 20th century (a 1993 policy article is the first that talks about consumers, while also mentioning customers - later potentially being not only students but also their parents).

I have more thinking to do about all of this, but there's definitely something about how we can take certain terms for granted and not really think about how recent they are. (I'm hoping to really dig into an impressive 20th century timeline in Dynamics in Document Design that tracks the rise of consumer culture through document design: it's immense).


Aside from the earlier mentioned books, I also read or listened to a few others:

  • I’m working through Erik Stolterman Bergqvist’s Design Thinking Reading Suggestions: Going Deeper. So far I’ve finished Tom Ingold's Making (excellent - talks about how designers are in correspondence with materials - a conversation that doesn't really start or end), Donald Schon's Educating the Reflective Practitioner (much of which I enjoyed in showing how language is shared, though wasn't sure about the end parts) and started on Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (with some brilliant close observation of actual science work in all its messiness, as well as post-rationalisation of history after a breakthrough).
  • I listened to Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism on the weekend. In fact I’ve listened to it several times as it takes a few goes to take it all in. It’s boldly QTBIPOC, and while it took a while to get into some of the language (remind me what Shangrila means?) it’s an important celebration of bodies that choose to counter current binaries, to ‘glitch’, and to be both ‘afk’ (away from keyboard—a concept I understand but does feel very late 00s and desktop) and online. (See also: Katie Notopoulos’s suggestion in the MIT Technology Review that to have good discourse on the internet we need to go back to the olden days of blogs and get beyond the big platforms)
  • I also listened to Johanna Macy and Chris Johnstone's Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in with Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power. There's some good thoughts about managing energy and activism, though I'd love to talk to people more knowledgable about activists such as Nelson Mandela as I sometimes worried that the examples being used of their work might have been a bit simplistic?
  • I also really enjoyed Lucy Webster's The View From Down Here: Life as a Young Disabled Woman. One reader review complained that it was an 'angry' book but it wasn't, but instead with some moving chapters about carers ('the girls') and challenges with access, relationships and hopes for being a parent.

Other stuff

See you all in 2024,