An Interview with Dr. Brendan Richardson (Part Two)

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What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

Interestingly, I am giving a paper at a conference in Trinity College, Dublin next week looking at the intersection between participation in or support for Blockadia, and support for Bernie Sanders.

I have been watching social media for the last 18 months. I will talk next week on how in that space, in that intersection, how it has been interesting to see how people have adopted Bernie Sanders as their candidate of choice.

Many might not see Sanders as a mainstream politician, but he has conducted an exciting mainstream political campaign. It does not seem like he will win the nomination for the Democratic party, but even so, people from the Blockadia movement have taken their passion for that movement and moved into the mainstream with it.

Oftentimes, we see movements focused on individual issues for themselves, but maybe there is a growing realization that we need to go mainstream. If we want to achieve change in the medium to longer term, it will be through coalition building as groups enter the mainstream together

I’ll be talking a little bit about that at the conference and I may attempt to continue do some research to see how that whole movement moves onward post-Bernie Sanders campaign.

I am also collaborating with some colleagues in the United Kingdom looking at the issues that arise for consumers once they become aware of their own desire to behave ethically and sustainably.

Because this idea of consumers wanting to behave ethically and finding it difficult to do so has interested me for a couple of years. I have one colleague in Sheffield Management School in the United Kingdom at the University of Sheffield, I have another at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and they noticed similar issues cropping up in their research. There have been a lot of academics working on this question and problem. We want to collaborate together looking for more details on these questions. That’s going to be my primary research focus for the next 18 months.

Apart from that, I will attempt to achieve that elusive work-life balance. I have a family of 4 kids, two girls and two boys. The girls are in the Irish equivalent of high school. They are busy with studying and social lives. The boys are a bit younger, but they still need time with their Dad.

It is important to me to spend time with them and with their mom. That is the other side of life for me. I hope to continue to give more time to that part of life.

With respect to work, and a more personal question, what personal meaning and fulfillment does all of this work give for you?

What I am trying to do, Scott, is do my job as an academic in a way that I find personally meaningful.

I feel, without wanting to sound excessively idealistic or naïve about it, a responsibility as a teacher to encourage students to ask questions.

I have these wonderful young people. They want to study marketing. What I want to encourage them to do is ask questions about the relationship between marketing and society, I don’t want them to assume that everything is rosy.

Instead, I want them to think about the sustainable economy. What would it look like? How will we get there? How are we going to achieve greater levels of equality and justice? What do we need to do to achieve those changes?

That’s one way I can try to achieve some degree of personal fulfillment. Other ways would be through personal relationships with my partner, kids, and friends – and through trying to share my beliefs in a way that is respectful of other people.

If I try to communicate my ideas in a disrespectful way, then other people will be less likely to buy into them.

It is interesting. In Ireland, there has been a campaign of civil resistance towards the introduction of water charges. A charge for the domestic water supply.

Without going into the details as to whether that was an equitable, just, or appropriate way to make the supply of water more sustainable in an Irish context, it was interesting to see the scale of the resistance that emerged in Ireland.

It was across the board against it. So what I’ve learned from that is that for example, if we were to try to legislate, if governments got together throughout the world brought in new laws to compel everybody to behave sustainably, we might have a backlash. That might be a difficult thing because a great many people might resist.

I’m not saying legislation isn’t the answer. Personally, I think we need a great deal more legislation, to help achieve sustainability. I think the legislation needs to come in a consultative way. I prefer consultation as a means to work with people. I find that works far better.

Another thing, I find involvement with theatre fulfilling too. As an amateur actor, it is amazing. In my limited experience of working in theatre, if you are working with somebody (a director) who wants to work with you, wants to hear your ideas about art and acting in a play, it is interesting how much harder you’re willing to work for a director that listens to how you feel and how you think.

I find that fulfilling. There’s more mutual respect. On a spiritual level, that’s more meaningful. Ultimately, I like to think of myself as a spiritual person. I feel inspired to bring things back to the environmental movement.

I feel inspired by people where their spirituality is a big part of their environmentalism. I find that the most fulfilling orientation of all. Maybe, true spirituality is a spirituality that is respectful of other people – and other people’s beliefs.

Through spirituality, you find the strength to continue to fight for what’s right and the capacity to better absorb the challenges, difficulties, and accept them rather than become broken by them.

What would spirituality be for you?

I’m a Catholic. My wife and I bring the kids to church. We encourage the kids to ask questions. If they feel annoyed by something they’ve heard, we ask them what they think, we tell them what we think, we talk it through.

I can also relate strongly in many ways to the current Pope. I feel an identification with him, especially on the environment. I can identify with his stance on social justice. I can relate to his reaching out to the refugees at a time when most of Europe – and most of the political leaders – are making it more difficult for refugees to reach safety and sanctuary in Europe.

He had the courage to visit the refugees. It is a direct affront to all of these political leaders. All of our political leaders would not dare to offend one another in any way, but he’s different. I like this guy. He seems to have a humility about him.

I can identify much more closely with a Christianity that stands for justice, the environment, human rights, and calls people out on treating ordinary people badly – whether refugees, workers, or whoever.

To me, that is a practical spirituality. I feel called to that.

With respect to ethical and sustainable fashion companies, general denouement statement, what’s the importance of them now?

Any company acting from a strong sense of mission. They have a critical role to play in continuing to build awareness among the general population and continuing to encourage people. They encourage people to change their behaviour without ostracizing or marginalizing yourself from mainstream society.

You can change personal behaviour in ways that are attractive. When it comes to ethical fashion and ethical fashion brands, it matters that we would have a platform through these companies and brands to permit expression of ourselves as human beings.

First and foremost, we cannot alter our own nature in order to achieve a sustainable way of living. We are going to be human beings. We like nice clothes. We want to be fashionable. We still want to express ourselves and our identities through the attractive clothes we buy.

It’s a fundamental of living. I talk to students about non-verbal communication. Clothing is a huge component of it. When we want to present ourselves to other people, we can use body language, but we make choices with the regards to our clothing, shoes, use of makeup, hair styles, personal grooming. So we need ethical brands. One of my favourite, people on this side of Atlantic is a woman named Lucy Siegle. She writes in The Observer newspaper.

I am inspired by her willingness to continue to be an advocate for people. Ethical fashion brands have a dual mission. It is to facilitate self-expression on the part of consumers who want to be able to buy and wear fashionable clothing, but also, it is to engage politically, to advocate. We need it. We need that engagement. We need to be reminded that it’s not enough to run campaigns promoting recycling in the hopes that one’s brand will be perceived in a better light as a result. It needs to be about the cause, not just the brand.

There has to be an authentic commitment. It runs through the whole supply chain and embraces political advocacy. That’s what I see in some of these ethical fashion brands. It’s great.

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

I was honored to be able to receive the invitation to be interviewed. I really enjoy following the work of Trusted Clothes, the blog, and your social media feed. I hope you guys will continue to spread the word and continue doing what you’re doing. Keep active and keep being an inspiration for people.

I’ve learned that we all need to be reminded that there are other people out there that share our vision for a world that can be a better place. A world that can be a more equitable place, a fairer place, where we can get on with the wonderful enjoyment and expression of being human without that having to be at somebody else’s expense.

It is wonderful to know that there are other good people out there. We all need that affirmation. That’s what makes it possible to go on believing that a better world is possible.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Richardson.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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