My original training was in philosophy, and so was most of my teaching. However, my trajectory as a researcher has been unusual in the range of its engagements, and in being pursued at the interfaces between philosophy and social and cultural theory rather than confined within academic philosophy. While I have engaged in research projects and published quite widely on feminism, socialist theory, aesthetics, and humanist thought, my two most abiding research themes have been the theory of needs and consumption (my first book, On Human Needs, explored what might be termed the ‘productive contradictions’ in Marx’s various discourses on needs); and the conceptualization of nature, notably the often contrary concepts of ‘nature’ at work in current ecological discourses and cultural criticism and the tensions between realist-and anti-realist approaches (my main text here is What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human). These two strands, connecting environmental protection with the politics of consumption, have come together recently in my research on ‘alternative hedonism’. Funded initially as a theoretical project in the mainly empirically based ESRC/AHRC ‘Cultures of Consumption’ Programme 2004-6, this reflects on the emergence of a more ambivalent attitude to affluence on the part of some consumers, and its possible role in prompting more sustainable consumption and generating revised ideas about needs, pleasures and the ‘good life’.
This set of interests and research approach has reflected my concerns to bring philosophy into communication with other areas of study and to engage as a radical thinker in academic pursuits that have critical relevance, and, hopefully, some transformative impact on the wider world. But appropriate research contexts in which to pursue these aims are not easily come by, and this makes me particularly appreciative of the opportunity to spend some time as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Pufendorf Institute. During my time here I shall be seeing articles on ethical consumption and eco-criticism into print, co-editing a special issue of Green Letters on the ecology of labour, and furthering research on a book on ‘alternative hedonism’. But my priority and main activity will be the research and writing I shall be doing in conjunction with the Institute’s Sustainable Welfare project under the direction of Professors Max Koch and Oksana Mont. One of the outcomes from this is a book, to which I shall be contributing two chapters, one solo, one joint. I shall also be giving some public lectures on themes related to that project and participating in the culminating Workshop in May.
Addressed to the most important but intransigent issue of our times, namely, how to conceptualise and promote global well-being in ways consistent with observing environmental limits, the Sustainable Welfare project is unique in bringing considerations of sustainability into the sphere of welfare studies (from which they have formerly been absent). I feel very fortunate to be involved in this kind of research, which so closely coincides with my own interests in the furtherance of an alternative politics of prosperity; and also because of the attention being given to degrowth as a condition of sustainable welfare. I am convinced that the importance of degrowth economics and associated social and cultural studies will become increasingly recognized over the next decade, and accepted much more readily than at present as an essential critical engagement for our times. I very much applaud the pioneering encouragement currently being given at the Pufendorf Institute to those working in these areas and feel privileged to be associated with its innovative research community.