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A surplus of ideas
Richard Wilk

When is the border between enough and too much crossed? When does a comfortable abundance become an oppressive surfeit? When does choice move from being a privilege to a burden? This book ends a series of three by the same editors which address these questions, exploring many aspects of overflow. These extremes might be the best way to characterize our world, populated by 8 billion people, hundreds of millions migrating and seeking refuge, where the obese outnumber the undernourished and middle-class homes are filled to bursting with goods and possessions. The consumer marketplace is driven into perpetual motion, as today’s valuables turn into tomorrow’s trash. Overflow, or perhaps surfeit, is also the best way to describe the wealth of new ideas circulating in these essays.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Demand-side abundance and its discontents in Hungary during the long 1960s
György Péteri

It was shortages, not excess consumption, that was a prime subject for Eastern Europe’s social scientists of the Cold War era. Yet a move toward market socialism, the re-emergence of the emancipated consumer, and a sustained supply-side abundance remained at the core of the reformist Communist economy, all the way to the demise of the state-socialist project. The changes during the 1960s included the birth of the consumer citizen and some half-hearted steps toward an economic domain in which planning and market would be integrated. The long decade following 1956 in Hungary brought with it consumerism, defined as values and desires, and patterns of behavior focused on satisfying an acquisitive desire. Such consumerism did not require the abundance of goods, typical for the contemporary Western affluent societies.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Lars Norén and Agneta Ranerup

From the late 1990s onwards, most politicians decided that one way of dealing with that critique was to launch web-based guides designed to support citizens by providing information before they had to make a choice. Private actors also saw business opportunities and started private web-based guides.

Guides covering key public services are a relatively new phenomenon; they differ from those in the private sector, however, because they regulate the relationship between the state and the citizen. In the study reported here, focus is on guides to public services, and how they are supposed to help people to deal with the overflow of choice opportunities.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Open Access (free)
Orvar Löfgren and Barbara Czarniawska

This volume summarizes seven years of research, drawing and adding to the insights presented in the two earlier books from the project. The first volume, Managing overflow in affluent societies (2012) began by exploring earlier research in the field and then developed a conceptual framework that was put to work in a number of case studies. The second volume, Coping with excess: How organizations, communities and individuals manage overflows (2013), brought another theme to the foreground: the social and moral dimensions of evaluating overflow in terms of positive or negative, as a problem or as a potentiality. We return to the findings of these earlier publications as we reflect upon the cumulative work over the years.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Framing excess in a Swedish newspaper group
Elena Raviola

Structural changes, digitalization, declining advertising revenues, declining circulation of paid-for newspapers, and an increasing online culture have been filling the pages of newspapers, magazines, and scientific journals in an attempt to explain the newspaper crisis. This chapter tells the story of Stampen Media Group, a family-owned Swedish newspaper organization. Its journey of survival over a decade took it from a position of success – the most successfully expanded local media group in the country – to a position of near-bankruptcy. It is a story of hope turned to despair, the story of a media organization presented as exemplary in international industry conferences to a story of destructive overflow. A historical analysis suggested three types of excesses: too many acquisitions, too high salaries and bonuses for top management, and too high operating costs; all the possible reasons of the current problem of scarcity of financial resources. But who decides what is too high or too costly?

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Helene Brembeck

Too much stuff at home has been a moral center of debate since at least the late 1950s and early 1960s. Planning has become essential, and techniques for handling the growing influx of things developed both as a result of adjustments to everyday practices and professional help and guidelines, and an increasing assortment of furniture and accessories intended for storing things at home. Thus self-storage, which began to appear in the mid-1990s, and is now spreading all over the Western world. This phenomenon is usually interpreted as an example of overconsumption. In this chapter, however, self-storage is seen as providing the means of organizing space and controlling clutter, thus creating proper flows through homes and lives.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Open Access (free)
Managing overflow in science publishing
Sabina Siebert, Robert Insall, and Laura M. Machesky

Overflow – or surplus, excess, overspill – is usually understood as the opposite of scarcity. Yet as Czarniawska and Löfgren (2012) noted, overflow can be construed as either positive, when more means better, or as negative, when there is too much, even of a good thing. But no matter how it is defined and whose perspective one considers, overflow must be managed – controlled or coped with. Earlier studies revealed a variety of practical definitions of overflow and a variety of managing devices and ways of coping with overflow. Acknowledging the value of earlier contributions to the study of overflow and drawing on those insights, in this chapter the focus is on a phenomenon not studied previously: overflow in biomedical science publications.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Handling urban overflows
Orvar Löfgren

How do people learn to move in a sea of strangers and adapt to new and alien circumstances? What kind of processes of overflow are encountered here? This chapter starts by discussing the refugee crisis in 2015, when large numbers of migrants traveled in search of help and asylum through Europe. This contemporary situation is compared with the emergence of mass travel, new migrations, and urban growth in the late nineteenth century. As new travel technologies and patterns of movement took shape in the industrializing world there was a need to learn how to deal with an overflow or overload of people – faces, movements, gestures, and impressions from strangers – and at a quickening pace. Questions of anonymity, intimacy, and distance came to the fore – a new psychology of handling crowds, but also of new systems for managing and controlling movement and identification. In the comparison of these two eras – a century apart – the focus is on learning new modes of movement and social navigation and unlearning old ones.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
Controversies regarding epistemic wagers in climate-economy models
Jonathan Metzger

This chapter relates questions of overflow to epistemic politics – the social process of establishing what constitutes valid and robust knowledge within a specific community of practice. The community of practice in this case pertains to the scientific field of climate economics, a subfield of economics that deals with the potential effects of climate change understood in economic terms and the potential costs and benefits of various measures geared toward mitigating that change. It focuses on various policy measures undertaken to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and specifically the most common (albeit not most potent) of these: carbon dioxide.

in Overwhelmed by overflows?
How people and organizations create and manage excess

This book presents studies of ways in which people and organizations deal with the overflow of information, goods, or choices. The contributors explore two main themes. The first is the emergence of overflows: What is defined as overflow? Here the notion of framing as coined by Michel Callon has guided our approach. There is no overflow until some flow has been framed; framing means defining, and defining means imposing borders. Who does it, how, and why? The answer to these questions necessitates an historical and comparative approach. What one culture defines as necessity, another may see as excess, and these differences can exist even between different levels of the same social hierarchy. The second theme is the management of overflows, in the double meaning of the term: as controlling and as coping. Coping with overflow means learning to live with it; controlling overflow requires various skills and devices. The individual chapters show the management of overflow taking place in various social settings, periods, and political contexts: From the attempts of states to manage future consumption overflow in post-war Eastern European to the contemporary economies of sharing. Other contributions focus on overflow in healthcare administration, overflow problems in mass travel and migration, overflow in digital services, and the overflow that scholars face in dealing with an abundance of research information and publications. This edited volume belongs to the transdisciplinary social sciences, and therefore it should be of interest to sociologists, management scholars, economists, historians, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars.