American University
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"A revolution we create daily": Freegan alternatives to capitalist consumption in New York City

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posted on 2023-09-09, 02:51 authored by Kelly Ernst

New York City freegans are a group of critical consumption activists dedicated to limiting their impact on the environment, consumption of resources, and participation in what they argue is an exploitive capitalist economy. Perhaps best known for their "trash tours" of garbage in the city's streets and dumpsters, freegans participated in a variety of actions to highlight waste, create community and reclaim urban space. Participants in freeganism include high school teachers, corporate lawyers turned bike maintenance workers, squatters, college students, freelance employees, bike messengers, and retirees. Alternately defined as an anti-globalization, global justice or primitivist movement, the goals of freeganism often appear inconsonant with their tactics. Is freeganism an example of a postmodern movement responding to changes in contemporary organizing and social concerns, or is it a symptom of the society of spectacle they are critiquing? The use of dumpster diving as the primary recruitment tool for anti-capitalist organizing was a way to display excessive waste while simultaneously displaying freeganism as a solution but did this tactic obscure or enhance their message?; Combining analysis of my participation in the freegan movement, interviews with freegans and an historical analysis of critical consumption movements in the United States, I learned about the complexities and contradictions freegans face in their use of radical democratic strategies to affect social, economic and political change. Freeganism is a reaction to and a product of a postmodern society of spectacle and capitalist hegemony and freegans' experiences illuminate the problems and solutions faced by other contemporary direct action movements. Using direct action theory as a starting point, this dissertation uses the stories and experiences of particular freegans along with descriptions of their various tactics to better understand how contemporary activists organize and what obstacles they are working to overcome. Freegans imagine a world that is free of the market rhetoric and capitalist hegemony and though they face many obstacles, they are in the process of discovering what it takes to create a postmodern consumer revolution.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2010.


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