Hurricane Sandy & Consumer Culture


In the last week of October 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept up the Eastern Seaboard. Here in New Jersey, the storm destroyed homes, businesses and board walks all along the shore. Many lost their houses and places of work and leisure, while millions more went days–some even weeks–without power. The devastating, and never before seen at this scale effects of the storm, left many questions on people’s minds. Wonders ranged from broad concerns about climate change, to the simple necessity of where to go to get warm.

Reflecting on Sandy, our class will explore issues at the intersections of consumerism and ‘weather disasters’. We will work from the perspective that people are always entangled up with objects and environments, seeing weather as something that we can ‘act on’ and that ‘acts on’ us. The objective of this project then, is to ask both: How might our consumer society have shaped the effects of Sandy? and at the same time, How did Sandy come to shape our consumer behaviour?

To be able to develop a multi-perspective account of ‘Sandy and/in Consumer Society,’ we will divide into four groups, each focusing on a key area of inquiry. As a member of a research team, everyone is responsible to do the introductory readings, some online research, and to participate in group and class discussions.

Group A – Consumer Cultures and Climate Change

Described as like a ‘storm on steroids’, scientists are saying that the effects of Sandy were worsened by global warming. Bloomberg Businessweek even ran a cover story called ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid!’ But how do large-scale corporate consumer practices contribute to climate change in ways that worsen the weather? Likewise, what aspects of our everyday consumer culture heighten the effects of storms like Sandy?


Group B- Consumerism Out of Power

Reading by candlelight. Playing board games beside an open oven. When the power goes off so do many of our most used devices. What happens to our regular patterns and habits of consumption during a black out? How do we consume differently and how might we come to think differently about what we consume?


Group C- Contingent Consumptions

Before the storm we saw piled up crates of water fill store room floors and  people rush out to buy up flash lights and candles. After it hits, there were 14 block long lines to fill canisters of gas. What can we make of these particular kinds of consumption that occur before and after a ‘weather disaster’? How might we describe the consumer culture of ‘stocking up for a storm’? And likewise, how can we make sense of the goods that become scarce in its aftermath?


Group D – Mutual Aid & Communities beyond Consumption

While horror stories spread across the news of muggings and looting in the blacked out days after Sandy, there are also less told stories of the thousands of volunteers that engaged in small and large acts of care and cooperation. Author Rebecca Solnit describes such a community that can arise in disaster situations as ‘a paradise built in hell’. What evidence is there for such communities of cooperation emerging in Sandy’s aftermath? What does this suggest to us about alternative ways we might live, work and play together?



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