Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves

Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves

by Andrew Szasz
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Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves by Andrew Szasz

 “Not long ago, people did not worry about the food they ate. They did not worry about the water they drank or the air they breathed. It never occurred to them that eating, drinking water, satisfying basic, mundane bodily needs might be a dangerous thing to do. Parents thought it was good for their kids to go outside, get some sun.

            “That’s all changed now.” —from the Introduction


Many Americans today rightly fear that they are constantly exposed to dangerous toxins in their immediate environment: tap water is contaminated with chemicals; foods contain pesticide residues, hormones, and antibiotics; even the air we breathe, outside and indoors, carries invisible poisons. Yet we have responded not by pushing for governmental regulation, but instead by shopping. What accounts for this swift and dramatic response?  And what are its unintended consequences?


Andrew Szasz examines this phenomenon in Shopping Our Way to Safety. Within a couple of decades, he reveals, bottled water and water filters, organic food, “green” household cleaners and personal hygiene products, and “natural” bedding and clothing have gone from being marginal, niche commodities to becoming mass consumer items. Szasz sees these fatalistic, individual responses to collective environmental threats as an inverted form of quarantine, aiming to shut the healthy individual in and the threatening world out.


Sharply critiquing these products’ effectiveness as well as the unforeseen political consequences of relying on them to keep us safe from harm, Szasz argues that when consumers believe that they are indeed buying a defense from environmental hazards, they feel less urgency to actually do something to fix them.  To achieve real protection, real security, he concludes, we must give up the illusion of individual solutions and together seek substantive reform.


Andrew Szasz is professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of the award-winning EcoPopulism (Minnesota, 1994).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452913476
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: 11/15/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Andrew Szasz is professor and chair of the sociology department at the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of the award-winning EcoPopulism (Minnesota, 1994).

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Inverted Quarantine 1

I Two Historical Case Studies 9

1 The Fallout Shelter Panic of 1961 15

2 Suburbanization as Inverted Quarantine 56

II Assembling a Personal Commodity Bubble for One's Body 97

3 Drinking 105

4 Eating 134

5 Breathing 153

III Consequences of Inverted Quarantine 169

6 Imaginary Refuge 173

7 Political Anesthesia 194

Conclusion: The Future of an Illusion 223

Notes 239

References 283

Index 319

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Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is a lot of interesting points in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Szasz's twofold premise is that not only is the plethora of contemporary products touted as helping improve the environment not doing all that much, but these are also diminishing the prospect that the large-scale, systematic programs and practices required for actually improving the environment will be conceived and promulgated. To bring a focus to his premise and multifaceted argument for it, Szasz reaches back to the fallout shelter phenomenon of the early 1960s. And he also points to the phenomenon of suburbanization which accelerated about that time and continued over the following few decades. These two phenomena--the first part of a government program to deal with the nuclear threat, the latter a widespread sociological movement--are ways large numbers of Americans responded to threats and concerns in their day similarly to how large numbers of Americans are responding to environmental, ecological, and health threats these days. The plethora of environmentally 'conscious' products and practices 'e. g., recycling, diet regimens' allow individuals to devise a 'personal commodity bubble for one's body'. While this bubble does offer genuine physical and psychological wellbeing, collectively--even considering the millions who follow similar environmentally aware lifestyles--they bring virtually no material improvement to the environment. Nor in that they bring no improvement, do they do much to conduce to better health or a better environment for the society in general. The phenomenon of suburbanization exemplifies how individuals--mostly more affluent individual families--make choices to improve their own lives but do nothing to resolve fundamental social problems. The fallout shelter phenomenon urged by government and enthusiastically bought into by many businesses exemplifies for Szasz how major programs devised and promoted by central institutions can, like suburbanization, be a way to avoid coming to grips with a problem, in this case the environmental problems which are worsening year by year. The way many individuals are responding individually and in some cases by communities or groups to the environmental problems is a form of 'inverted quarantine' whereby they are walling themselves off from deteriorating environmental conditions instead of acting to improve the environment permanently for the good not only of their own children but for future generations and for their own society and global society. Szasz does not argue that the environmental products and the consumer choices and lifestyles developed around them should be abandoned--even as 'inverted quarantines'--but that no matter the number and ingenuity of such products and increasing numbers of individuals availing themselves of them, these are 'not enough'. The professor of sociology at the U. of California-Santa Cruz and author of the book 'EcoPopulism' tenders some specific changes in perspective on environmental issues and some specific policies for environmental improvement. Mainly though, he argues for a society-wide approach to dealing with evident and perpetuating environmental problems which can be led only by government at all levels and social policies and practices that are different from consumerism or fancy types of escapism. Only when the 'fallout shelter' mentality of dealing with a problem is put aside will relevant, effective ways for dealing with environmental problems come about.