Ethical Consumption Before Capitalism

Project Summary

Is there a right type and amount of consumption? The idea of ethical consumption has gained prominence in recent discourse, both in terms of what we purchase (from fair trade coffee to carbon off-sets) and how much we consume (from rechargeable batteries to energy efficient homes). Concern with the morality of consumption is not new to capitalist societies; we can find debates on the ethics of consumption in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Themes and Categories
Year
2021
Contact
Astrid Giugni
English
astrid.giugni@duke.edu

Is there a right type and amount of consumption? The idea of ethical consumption has gained prominence in recent discourse, both in terms of what we purchase (from fair trade coffee to carbon off-sets) and how much we consume (from rechargeable batteries to energy efficient homes). Concern with the morality of consumption is not new to capitalist societies; we can find debates on the ethics of consumption in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

A team of four students from Duke, BSC, and UC Irvine led by Dr. Astrid Giugni (English, Duke) and Dr. Jessica Hines (English, Birmingham Southern College) expanded the work of the 2020 Data+ team working on the “Love of Greed” project (https://bigdata.duke.edu/projects/love-greed-tracing-early-history-consumer-culture) to analyze the approximately 60,000 Medieval and Renaissance digitized texts made available by EEBO-TCP  (https://textcreationpartnership.org/tcp-texts/eebo-tcp-early-english-books-online/) to track associations between the languages of consumer culture and ethical practice.

In order to be able to focus their analysis, the group used topic modeling to select a subset of 10,000 texts published within a 50-year time frame (from 1580 to 1630). The goal of this process was to be able to identify texts that both dealt with the concept of “consumption” and with ethical language. These 10,000 texts were then analyzed using sentiment analysis to determine the ethical valence of key “consumables,” with particular emphasis on gold, silver, wool, beer, and tobacco.

The full results can be found in the group’s poster and website (https://sites.google.com/view/ethical-consumption-before-cap/topic-modeling-and-filtering).

View the team's project poster here

Watch the team's final presentation on Zoom:

 

Project Managers: Astrid Giugni (English, Duke), Jessica Hines (English, Birmingham Southern College)

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