Toward a Foucauldian Ethics of Sustainable Consumption

20 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2020

See all articles by Samuel Alexander

Samuel Alexander

University of Melbourne - Office for Environmental Programs; Simplicity Institute

Date Written: January 30, 2012


Michael Foucault argued that 'the self' is socially constructed. So far as that is true, inhabitants of consumer societies have probably all internalized the social and institutional celebration of consumption, to varying extents, and this will have shaped our identities and worldviews, often in subtle ways. If it is the case, however, that overconsumption is driving many of the world’s most pressing problems, then it may be that ethical activity today requires that we engage the self by the self for the purpose of refusing who are – so far as we are uncritical consumers. This would open up space to create new, post-consumerist forms of subjectivity. This paper explores the possibility of self-fashioning such post-consumerist forms of subjectivity by infusing the idea of ‘voluntary simplicity’ – which signifies the attempt to live ‘more with less’ – with Michel Foucault’s notion of ethics as an ‘aesthetics of existence.’ After outlining Foucault’s ethics, this paper describes several ‘techniques of the self’ that could be employed by those who wish to actually practice the idea of ‘voluntary simplicity as an aesthetics of existence.’

Keywords: foucault, aesthetics of existence, voluntary simplicity, sustainable consumption, consumerism

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Samuel, Toward a Foucauldian Ethics of Sustainable Consumption (January 30, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Alexander (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Office for Environmental Programs ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Carlton, Victoria 3053

Simplicity Institute


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