Countering Consumer Culture
Few would dispute the notion that consumerism is a prevailing feature of American culture. The extent to which consumer culture dominates the way most people see the world makes imagining alternatives to consumerism almost impossible. This stultification of imagination is highly problematic. As it stands, consumer culture, measured by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, demonstrably tends to inhibit human flourishing on personal, social, and global levels. There is a need to transform consumer culture in order to support human flourishing more robustly, and this barrenness of imagination impedes that transformation. This dissertation assumes that it is a task of teachers in faith to educate toward cultural alternatives that better support human flourishing. This task requires engaging in and developing what Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann calls "prophetic imagination." The prophetic imagination involves both deconstructing the taken-for-granted dominant culture and entering into a community whose practices, values, and ideals effect an alternative culture. While here focused on consumer culture, this model of educating for prophetic imagination has broader applicability; it can also be used, for example, to challenge cultures of racism, sexism, and militarism. This education in imagination develops in what scholars of management Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger call "communities of practice." Jesus and his disciples model for Christians a community of practice that imagines and acts prophetically. Communities of practice that educate for prophetic imagination ought to measure their own imagination against Jesus's prophetic imagination, shaped by his understanding of the Reign of God. This portrait of communities of prophetic practice is fleshed out in an exploration of empirical studies of communities that engage learners and draw them into an imagination that re-shapes not only how they see what the world is but also how they envision what the world can be. Communities of practice that educate for prophetic imagination can foster the transformation of consumer culture into a culture that better supports human flourishing. In order to do so, however, they must start with an anthropology that adequately understands what flourishing entails. These communities ought to be attentive to three aspects of the human person that tend to be given short shrift in consumer culture: the person's role as a creative producer, the person's inherent relationality, and the person's need embrace finitude, the limitations of human capability. The Church should be utilizing communities of practice to overcome the sterility of imagination and contribute to a culture of what might be called humanizing plenitude. This culture supports the fullness of human thriving by re-imagining what that thriving entails and engaging in practices to facilitate it. The Church as teacher can be involved in this education for the purpose of cultural transformation to enhance human flourishing in various arenas. Finally, this dissertation particularly proposes that this education can happen in higher education, in parishes, and in collaboration with the wider community.