Trane's Reviews > The Scavengers' Manifesto

The Scavengers' Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
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's review
Nov 06, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: leftisms, culture-and-society
Read in September, 2009

I was really disappointed in The Scavengers' Manifesto, which is not helpful at all in terms of practical information or concrete examples. At the same time, it's far too diffuse and soft in its attack to generate the emotional force of an actual manifesto.

Here are my three main issues with the book:

1) There is a serious lack of detailed information about scavenging. Unlike a classic alternative lifestyle text like Shelter, which includes photographs, building details, concrete accounts written by individuals, etc., this book deals in generalities that are almost impossible to use as a basis for practical action. A single online entry about jugaad, the Indian practice of ingeniously recycling objects for other uses, contains more actual examples of scavenge and reuse than the entire manifesto.

2) The philosophical basis that underlies The Scavengers' Manifesto is confused and imprecise. I think the authors wanted the book to feel like it could be everything for everybody (everyone can be a scavenger!), but in fact they made the idea of 'scavenging' so all inclusive that the term loses any meaning it may have once had. In a section called "MANY TYPES OF SCAVENGER, ONE SHARED MIND-SET," for example, Rufus and Lawson write,

"These days, more activities count as scavenging than you might imagine. To us, scavenging means any way in which goods can be acquired for less than full price. This could mean thrift shops. Flea markets. Metal detecting. Freecycling. Coupon clipping. Plain old sales. All of these and more are forms of scavenging. And all remove us from that soulless, processed, debt-provoking standard retail cycle."

If coupon-clipping and going to sales count as scavenging, than it's intellectually dishonest to pretend that scavenging is somehow anti-consumerist. Coupon clipping and sales are a central part of the consumer ethos — in fact, bargain bins are a classic way for retail outlets to get people to part with their money by buying things they don't really need.

3) A straw man argument is set up at the beginning of the book that is ridiculous on its face: "Most non-scavengers — we call them standard consumers — recoil at the very thought of not buying things brand-new at full price." I don't know on what planet these 'standard consumers' might exist (perhaps in the realm of the ultra-rich elite), but every middle-class family I've ever known, including upper middle-class families, has been more than happy to buy at bargain prices and even trumpet the "great deal" that they've gotten on something they've bought. Not a lot of recoiling going on there. This depiction of the 'standard consumer' is followed up by the creation of the category of 'scavenger as radical': "No matter how or why you do it [scavenge:], even if you're just re-using Christmas ribbon or picking fruit in a vacant lot, you are a radical."

Reusing Christmas ribbon does not make you a radical.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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4fabfelines Cox i agree alot of what you siad. Right on.

message 2: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Just wanted to say thanks for putting together such a thoughtful, comprehensive review. You just made a decision for me!

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