Praxis (Building Solutions)

The Psychology of Consumption

Graduate Thesis Design Research by Kate Greim

Advisor's Introduction:

Kate's research paper arrives (perhaps as a cleverly feigned accident) at what might be the most fundamental underlying human condition that is standing between current reality and a sustainable form of future human civilization. Although Kate titled her research specific to collecting, the findings and conclusions are applicable to all forms of consumption that go beyond necessity, in American and increasingly even global society, from the extremes of hoarding, to high end art collections, to shopping as therapy, or just associating one's identity with objects at all. The compulsion takes many forms, but is so widespread we were constantly aware that it not only reflects upon both of us, but we were also constantly aware as she was writing the paper that she had to be cautious about offending 99% of her readers with every conclusion.

Kate's exploration drew her into some of the deepest psychological conditions that seem to be integral to our society today, and found them to be self-reinforcing as our economy depends on the behavior continuing and as needs never quite get met. 

As Kate was wrapping up her process with this research we felt like we were just beginning to see into some of the deepest insights on the modern human condition, and that she could have kept digging and discovering more truly fundamental hidden mechanisms that bridge individual pscyhology and global living-system dynamics. She was putting her finger on what may be the most fundamental and yet oft overlooked and unmet needs that we as humans have, and that perhaps nearly all dysfunction and conflict in our society could be traced back to.

So, psychology and sustainability  geeks alike, Enjoy!

 The Research Paper:

Advisor's Following Notes:

One of the last dynamics Kate and I explored as she was researching was the temporary nature of consciousness and mindset. There are many versions of the landscape of human consciousness / mindset / orientation, many spectrums, from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, to Spiral Dynamics, to the more recent X and Y types of human motivation. In any case, most of us, probably all of us, travel up and down or back and forth across these spectrums, probably hourly and daily.

Yet our conditioned impulse compells us to find the label for what we "ARE": a Myers Briggs: INTJ, or a Spiral Dynamics Yellow, or a Maslow self-actualizer. But does anyone really remain at any of those points? Even when you're hungry or tired or both, or when someone just bumped into you in the subway station, or cut you off on a highway? These labels may be the tendency we revert to when we're well fed and calm; our highest current potential that has been unlocked and become accessible in our best moments; but we're oscilating across these spectrums, and more fluidly than we might want to admit.

My colleagues and I are finding that having some idea of a person's orientation across these spectrums can really matter as to how to best engage them in integrative, relational, and/or democratic processes. And when a facilitator can cultivate an environment in which a person or a community is able to very consciously step into their full potential mindset, or even actually carve out further potential (i.e. climb higher up on the SD spiral, or Maslow's pyramid than ever before), then getting at the fundamental void Kate identified is actually easy. Believe it or not, when I leave a great integrative sustainability charrette, or take even a short trip into the wilderness, the collector or impulse shopper in me are nowhere to be found, because the deeper needs that often drive the compulsion, have been met.

A technical sustainability consulting company with clients and strategic partners including University of Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, B Lab, the U.S. Green Building Council, Autodesk, Con Edison Company of New York, Wallace Roberts & Todd, Humanscale.