European 'Ways of Life' in the American Century: Mediating Consumption and Technology in the Twentieth Century (EUWOL)

Project leader: Ruth Oldenziel

The research project European 'Ways of Life' in the American Century: Mediating Consumption and Technology in the Twentieth Century (EUWOL) takes the U.S. challenge as its point of departure. It hypothesizes the decisive importance of national appropriation strategies and highlights the intra-European networks that contributed to the formation of specific European consumption regimes and material cultures. The research project uses the area of consumption to investigate the prospects and potentials of Europe in a global world that has become increasingly dominated by the United States. It asks which European models circulated between actors in different countries and through which professional, economic, political, and cultural channels such models diffused. The project treats three interrelated  areas of consumption, one that is connected with residing and housing,  one that treats the emergence of various forms of leisure activities, and one that is related to the distribution, preservation, and packaging  of food.

To understand the production, the consumption, and the appropriation of housing, food products, and leisure, the project focuses on mediation processes. In the center of analysis are "intermediary" actors (e.g. city governments, trade unions, political parties, automobile clubs, and consumer organizations) who act as spokespersons and representatives of producers and consumers. With varying degrees of success, they publicly negotiate (the form and content of consumer goods and the technological structures in which material forms of residing and leisure are realized. Often, mediators serve as bridges between politicians and citizens. Applying mediation as a research strategy implies paying special attention to the work of "mediators" located at “junctions” often in the form of specific institutional loci: agencies, committees, or platforms. At such junctions, mediators create links between production and consumption by articulating and negotiating wishes, expectations, interests and strategies of potential consumers and producers of products, services, and leisure.

In investigating the development and use of technologies related to  housing, leisure and food in Europe between 1918 and 1989, the research  project examines how the state, civil society, and the economy in  various parts of Europe configured the space of mediation for shaping  technological developments in numerous and differing ways. The project seeks to understand how, in Europe, the state together with non-governmental organizations put consumption on the political agenda.

It analyzes how intermediary groups (including consumer lobby groups, labor unions, business associations, and government agencies) were crucial in shaping Europe's particular patterns of consumption, and seeks to understand how these groups sought to combine elements of mass, collective, and individual models of consumption which generated different consumer products and socio-technical regimes. In particular, the researchers will look at how America's position as the transatlantic “other" helped define local, national, and pan-European identities.

Watch the introduction video of the project European "Ways of Life" in the American Century. Mediating Consumption and Technology in the Twentieth Century by project leader Ruth Oldenziel!