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Chapter One Wal-Mart’s Cultural Politics © Routledge 2013
Making Wal-Mart strange The anthropological technique of defamiliarization helps us to view Wal-Mart as a social construction Wal-Mart feels like a “natural” part of the American landscape because it works hard to to seem “normal” Wal-Mart capitalizes on the failure of contemporary society to make the American Dream available to all © Routledge 2013
Wal-Mart’s normalization strategy Linking shareholder value to “Everyday Low Prices” (EDLP): consumers benefit directly from Wal-Mart’s low wages and outsourcing. Promoting affective inclusion among employees and customers: real satisfaction. Promoting a conflict-free society where aggressive capitalism can co-exist with contented workers and customers. Claiming to be a free-market solution to large-scale and structural social problems, such as poverty and environmental damage. © Routledge 2013
The American Dream Twin – and conflicting – focuses: 1. Celebration of individual effort and promotion of individual freedom 2. A sense of collective responsibility for one another: “my brother’s keeper” © Routledge 2013
Neoliberalism Deregulation of industries, such as manufacturing Focus on the free market Privatization of previously public services, such as health care and education Prioritize shareholder returns over the well- being of workers and the community © Routledge 2013
Wal-Mart and the American Dream Wal-Mart is engaged in a reconfiguration of the material, conceptual, and affective production of the American Dream (AD) Wal-Mart’s Everyday Low Prices (EDLP) makes the shrinking of the AD less visible and more tolerable to many Americans Wal-Mart smoothes out the rough edges of life, distracts us from the contradictions of the AD, and eases our economic suffering WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY reinforcing the conditions under which we are subject to harm (“cruel optimism”) © Routledge 2013
Wal-Mart’s critics Three groups: 1. “Elitists” who see Wal-Mart as a cheapened form of American retail and a blight to the landscape 2. Those who do not distinguish Wal-Mart from other multinational corporations with similar business practices and effects 3. Those who propose alternative versions of “living better” and who criticize the system that allows Wal-Mart to flourish © Routledge 2013
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