Student as Consumer: A Sign of a Global Pathology

The notion of ‘student as consumer’ represents a sign of a global pathology of finance eating itself and everything else it encounters. The process of transforming the world into products to be consumed is presenting itself as a global pathology. It is a kind of ‘locust economy’ initiated through unaccountable agents and algorithm driven stockmarkets which move through the world consuming everything for profit before moving on. We are evermore set up and posed as consumers as managerial echelons normalise the surreal imposition of new semiotics on our identities as human beings.

Locust Swarm Eating Crops
Locust Swarm Eating Crops


The mindless acquisition and subjugation of all forms of wealth into finance is exerting new artificial pressures on humans to survive as social mammals. As markets seek new investment mediums attentions are being turned to the necessities of our lives as profit vehicles. The simplification of our being and existence to consumers is ultimately to be consumed as people who are synchronously sized up as products.


The notion of consumer has been pitched through the concepts of freedom, choice and competition. With such semiotics how are we to resist when we find ourselves in ever more emotionally, intellectually and environmentally denuded spaces bereft of many of the securities which previous generations thrived on.


Consumption has become normalised in its projection onto each of our beings; it has become an epithet naturalised to human activity wherever finance has impressed itself as the organising principle. Now, we are contending with the displacement of identifying characteristics of our consciousness and society in slogans of commercialism such as ‘student as consumer’. We can see the emergence of this phrase beginning from 1965.



The roots of the word inform the behaviours which it seems to be causing. Consumerism is seemingly displaying the autopoietic (self reproduction) (Seidl, 2004) characteristics of iatrogenic illness (Friedman,1982); in medicine, an illness caused by medical examination or treatment. When you only have a hammer everything is treated as a nail; we are seeing the reduction of vastly complex interrelationships among homo sapiens in the natural world to finance and profitability – abstract numbers owned places other from the site of the reality.


A Consumption Society by Cartoon Movements
A Consumption Society by Cartoon Movements

If we examine the content of the idea of consumption it is devoid of sustainable principles. It is the act of using up a resource; it is a wasting disease often historically identified with pulmonary tuberculosis. We might start to understand the consequences of this self producing meem if we apply it to those things most immediate to us; our lovers, our partners, our families and friends.


How does it feel to say that I consume my lover ? This feeling is an important indicator of what is at work in the culture it produces; held within the culture is an externalisation of all responsibility…


What do we lose with the loss of responsibility ? Our connection with with universe and context is dulled and eroded; our ability to respond is set into decline and atrophy. We need only look to the natural world to understand the road we are travelling.


Through this behaviour of consumption our universe has been denuded of more species than we could study in a lifetime; we are turning the abundant bread basket of the oceans to empty rubbish tips; our natural flora has been levelled and replaced largely with monocrops like wheat.


In this thoughtless farming/framing of the world we can find how many businesses are externalising their responsibilities by using single use plastics rather than washable and reusable crockery; through the loss of options on our highstreet we are so reduced that the person is forced into behaving as a consumer, consuming and leaving a midden heap where an ecology once followed the seasons of its virtuous circle.


So how do we respond to the loss of our habitat; the environment we have co-evolved with and are reliant upon for our mental and physical health over the last 200,000 years ? What remedy is there to the disconnect that consumerism has instigated between our inner gaze and our outer gaze ? The answer to me is a simple practice which leads to complex outcomes; to learn…


Contained in the species capacity to learn are all the possibilities we have not yet tapped. Be it on an individual and community basis, such as Ragged University, or be it found in and through the institution with the likes of our Further Education Colleges and Universities, we find the essence of what allows us to develop, understand and adapt.


In his series of lectures published under the title ‘L’évolution pédagogique en France’, Emile Durkheim articulated education as not only reflecting on the society of the time but also attending to emerging needs which are not yet institutionalized in political society (Durkheim & Collins 2006).


This makes sense if we think of a learning society and education as composed of behaviours and supporting apparatus for humans to collectively learn and individually develop through the process. The individual and societies are constantly tasked with learning, adapting and evolving to the circumstances which are always changing. This through the lens of Charles Darwin is the immediate vehicle for the adaptation that provisioned survival.


I argue that in a reflection of the destruction of the natural world, our sociological habitat is equally corroded affecting our psychological capacities as mental health problems (Wilson et al 2002; Snowden 2001).


Mpora Destruction of the Natural World
Destruction of the Natural World by Mpora


Ultimately our physical health is negatively affected as a result of our loss of control through the impulsive drive to consume but not to be involved in all the things crystallised in that act of taking. All the skills exercised to bring about the acquisition and production of the things we use have been swept away along with all the interrelationships with other human beings involved in such enterprises; the neurons are not forged and the memories not made leaving the consumption of the fruit of endeavour an increasingly empty solipsism.


What possible good can there be to in being involved with acts of consumption without being involved in acts fo renewal ? How can we face the emerging horizons which are involved with the good life ? Through learning and understanding there come new capacities; through understanding the virtuous ecologies – those which give shared abundances – homo sapiens has found in life what is worth living.


This is what I see in a sense of education in its purpose, not in its business.  Whilst we have enjoyed the benefits of financialised economy, this abstraction negates the role which learning has at a species wide level.  In modes of sharing are positive externalities which come at a magnitudinal level – cooperative living negates the problems caused by humans.  My concern is that by framing everything in terms of a competitive market and exchange the benefits to the whole of society of education – that is having the ability to do more things collectively – are stifled.


Competing in certain ways puts us all at a disadvantage, and the floating of peoples education on the stockmarket, for example, comes to determine the human development outcomes and collective benefits available to us in our landscape in disastrous ways.  Will Golding he made the point that education should be not a charity either, it should be understood for what it is and essential for a healthy society and resourced appropriately as a primary consideration.  He was not speaking about education being ‘preparation for industry’ and a series of certificates authenticating an individual had knowledge.


Education is what human beings (and other species) have invested in over millennia because it is intricately involved in the process of evolution and appropriate adaptation to our environment.  One view of governments – or more appropriately governance – that civilisations have invested in over millenia in developing capacities to share knowledge.  One view of civilisation is collegiality. Richard Brooks used to be a tax inspector at HMRC said this about tax:


“For every pound I earn I will pay around 7 pence for immediate access to professional healthcare for my family, 5 pence for my children’s education, 2 pence for living in relative security, around the same to have the country I live in defended and 11 pence for pensions and social security for my compatriots and my future self. I even contribute half a pence to aid the developing world and, less heart-warmingly, 3 pence in interest to the various institutions from which we have collectively borrowed in order to spend more on these things than we have paid in so far…The central distinction between the systems is that one is privately funded, the other paid for by tax. If this were a club only a fool would not join. In fact nobody does opt out, but plenty happily enjoy the benefits of membership without paying their subs.”


How collective society has become organised through finance is playing itself out on the commodification of education [human development] (knowledge/learning).  As a patterning effect the pension system (sufficiency) has become invested in commodifying human development [education] (knowledge/learning).  The patterning effect of the way we are collectively organising ourselves is suffering from systems effects.


How do we face the problems we have created for ourselves ? The answers are to be found through adaptive education…



Seidl, D., (2004),  Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic social systems, Münchner betriebswirtschaftliche Beiträge Munich Business Research   LMU Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Munich School of Management. Available for download:

Durkheim, E., & Collins, P. (2006). The evolution of educational thought: Lectures on the formation and development of secondary education in France. London: Routledge.

Friedman, M., (1982), Iatrogenic Disease; Addressing a Growing Epidemic, Postgraduate Medicine, 71:6,123-129, DOI: 10.1080/00325481.1982.11716096

Snowden, D. (2001). Ageing with grace: what the nun study teaches us about how to lead longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives. New York: Bantam

Wilson, R. S., Mendes De Leon, C. F., Barnes, L. L., Schneider, J. A., Bienias, J. L., Evans, D. A., & Bennett, D. A., (2002), Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. JAMA, 287(6), 742-8


By Alex Dunedin