At its core, this is a project about the contemporary crisis of authenticity. Using minimalism discourse as a site to explore this crisis, my research into the minimalist lifestyle and its critique of consumerism is guided by two questions. First, how is the concept of authenticity mobilized within minimalism discourse? And second, how does the notion of authenticity contribute to governing the minimalist lifestyle and shaping the minimalist subject? To explore these questions a selection of self-help texts, or pedagogical lifestyle resources, are used. The discursive sites explored herein include guru books, Reddit forums, a documentary, Instagram posts, TED talks, and media coverage on the minimalist lifestyle. These diverse data sites are analyzed using mixed- methods including discourse analysis, frame analysis, and elements of grounded theory, and are shaped by a governmentality approach to theory and methodology.
The notion of authenticity is used to help naturalize governmentality and consumer culture. Minimalism, while offering a critique of consumerism, mobilizes authenticity in much the same way. The use of the rhetoric of authenticity within minimalism discourse takes the form of critique in three primary ways: (1) minimalists often express nostalgia for a pre-consumerism past, (2) minimalists tend to prioritize experiences over objects and (3), minimalists tend to distinguish between needs and consumer culture-created artificial wants in such a way that wants are deemed superfluous to living a fulfilling and meaningful life. What can be seen in minimalism discourse is a complex lifestyle oriented around highly intentional consumption practices and critical of individual participation in mass-consumption. Within this discourse, the rhetoric of authenticity is used as both a critique of consumerism and a justification for a highly regimented and responsibilized way of life that is, I argue, an example of governmentality in action at the level of the individual. It is my contention that through the incorporation of the rhetoric of authenticity, contemporary minimalism embodies neoliberal ways of thinking about the self as a project requiring continuous work.