Colloquium Explores Consumerism, Fashion, Women, and Beauty
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Sorbonne Abu Dhabi Holds Gilles Lipovetsky Colloquium on Cultural Transformations and Globalization

21Paris – Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (PSUAD) hosted celebrated French philosopher, Gilles Lipovetsky, known for his work on globalization, fashion, women, and beauty, in a colloquium titled ‘Cultural Transformations in a Globalized World’, in which he discussed his books “La troisième femme”, “L’écran global”, and “Le Bonheur Paradoxal”, and “The commodification of the world”.

Lipovetsky said he was delighted and honored to be in the UAE, and affirmed that observers agree on the uniqueness of the UAE’s experience as an oasis of tolerance and coexistence of various nationalities and ethnicities, nurtured by the efforts deployed by the country’s leaders to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of nationals and residents.

During the colloquium that drew a wide crowd of writers, intellectuals and PSUAD students, Lipovetsky remarked that the present era represents a new stage of capitalism, a ‘stage of financial consumerism’ or ‘hyper-consumerist societies’ and ‘paradoxical happiness’, which is rearing a new breed of consumers, where citizens of the new consumerist societies basically seek ‘wellbeing’ and ‘happiness’ through purchases, luxury brands, and access to information technology, in the age of the information revolution and the web. The ‘consumerist mentality’ has become one of the key components of culture.

The diversity of new products, he said, allows consumers richer lifestyles and multiple identities to belong to. Indeed, understanding the values of consumption has some advantages, making people more realistic and responsible for their lives and fate, i.e. less ‘romantic’, contrary to hyper-consumers who create a vulnerable society that lacks the capacity for participation and engagement in the wave of hyper-consumption.

The French scholar explored the concept of screens, their ubiquity today, and their impact as a modern invention, where screens appeared in tandem with cinema, became big in Hollywood in the fifties, on to the more widespread television, up to the current era of the internet screen. This is a new, game-changing stage, where the receiver can respond to and interact with the communication medium; something that was previously impossible in history.

On cinema in the fifties and sixties as the prime source of entertainment, he said that, today, websites, such as YouTube, and video games have assumed this function. Young people prefer the internet to television, and cinema no longer plays a central or influential part. But he still believes that cinema is capable of winning in the end as a provider of three elements to the world: a great show, entertainment, and stars.

He noted that media, on the whole, offers uneven artistic works across history. Millions of people listen to music today, or watch big-screen movies, or artistic architectural vistas. Media helps shape the aesthetics of modern consumers and their negative view of stories, events, and landscapes.

“In general, people want to look at what is beautiful in the world, to listen to music, decorate their homes with functional designs, and dress in fashionable outfits; developments in communication, media, technology, and the internet have created new desires and individual tendencies. This reveals that artistic tastes do not necessarily mean aesthetic culmination, just as democratic tastes do not imply the presence of true democracy.”

22Lipovetsky, however, considers women of the sixties and seventies to have been in a position of ‘isolation’ and that the male view was at the heart of the problem. But after women gained their independence and control over their bodies and fate, a new and important perspective emerged in human history. He noted that women in many Western societies have to hide their femininity to be considered competent professionals, otherwise their qualifications are dismissed.

The problems faced by women in the work environment, given that their roles are defined by a male perspective, compound the other challenges they face in society, overall, as professionals and political actors. What women strive for and seek is to strike a balance between their natural role as mothers and wives, and their educational and career ambitions. Women cannot find their psychological equilibrium unless they respond to the call of their instincts as females and mothers, and, at the same time, they are unwilling to relinquish the privileges of financial independence and self-fulfillment acquired by a professional career.

Prof. Dr. Eric Fouache, PSUAD Vice-Chancellor, described Gilles Lipovetsky as the philosopher of small details as he showcases layers of humanity, changes in human existence in terms of tendencies, desires, and social structure, and transformations across set and fixed ideas. Lipovetsky is preoccupied with social matters, individualistic tendencies, fashion trends, and hyper-consumerism in a capitalist society with excessive individual freedom and loss of control over control itself, to the world of the ‘third woman’, the multiplication of industrial brands, and ‘paradoxical happiness’.

“Gilles Lipovetsky is a philosopher on an ongoing quest for new conceptions of culture, ideas, aesthetics, and cultural values generated by civil media in a new stage of capitalism, which he calls hyper-consumerism or hyper-consumerist societies,” said Fouache.

Dr. Jacob Schmutz, head of the PSUAD Department of Philosophy and colloquium moderator, said that woman, to Lipovetsky, is a lover, sister, and friend; men and women play different roles, in all civilizations. In his book “La troisième femmes”, Lipovetsky used a rich methodology to express the shifting maturity of women. Indeed, he reviewed a wide range of French and world scholarly literature, and he concerned himself with the ideologies of women and with topics that other philosophers have overlooked, such as consumerism, women, fashion, and wellbeing – all of which are non-theoretical.

Dr. Schmutz noted that “L’écran global” managed to convey the idea of the ‘terror of images’, where readers become aware of a ‘cinematic obsession’! The book also raises key questions about society and the influence of advertising, video games, the internet, and other media on modern man.

French thinker and philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky is one of the most prominent contemporary French intellectuals. Born in Millau, Lipovetsky lived and studied in Paris before moving to Grenoble where he settled and began his career as a philosophy professor, scholar, and researcher at the University of Grenoble. He started writing at the age of 39 and his books have been viewed as the product of studying and teaching philosophy for many years. His work has gained resounding reception and praise.

Lipovetsky published his first book, L’ère du vide, when he was 39 years young. It is a collection of essays and musings on the phenomenon of individualism and its paradoxical relation to political practice as experienced by modern societies. He has written 14 books, the most recent of which, L’empire de l’éphémère, is published by renowned French publisher, Gallimard.