Class Notes

From selling to consumers to involving citizens

Jon Alexander (MA Global Ethics & Human Values, 2014)

Alumnus, author and co-founder of the New Citizenship Project, Jon Alexander (MA Global Ethics & Human Values, 2014), published his first book, Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us, in March 2022. Both the company and book work to shift the dominant story of the individual in society from Consumer to Citizen. For Class Notes, Jon explains what the book is all about.

‘Since Citizens came out last year, life has been a whirlwind. The book was listed by McKinsey as one of the top five recommended books in its annual Summer Reading Guide, putting me and my co-author Ariane Conrad alongside Bill Gates, Francis Fukuyama, Henry Kissinger and Adam Grant. It was reviewed as ‘an underground hit’ in the Financial Times, and by the end of the year, I found myself on a round-the-world trip, delivering talks and workshops in Singapore, Sydney, Los Angeles and Washington DC.

‘The core offer of the book is a way of seeing our present moment in time through the lens of three stories of the individual in society: Subject, Consumer and Citizen. We argue that too many of those in positions of power and influence in the existing systems and structures can only see two of these: the Consumer Story and the Subject Story. The Consumer Story we’ve been living within for the last 80 years is rooted in the idea of human nature as self-interested and seeks to harness that self-interest and make it add up to the collective interest. The resurgent Subject Story is the story of authoritarianism and paternalism, which holds that the God-given few know best and will lead the rest of us through the chaos, offering us protection in return for obedience.

‘The problem is that neither of these stories is fit for purpose. What we need instead – and what is emerging all over the world – is the Citizen Story. This is rooted in the understanding that humans are by nature collaborative, creative, caring creatures, who can and want to get involved. It recognises that all of us are smarter than any of us, and that the only way to deal with truly complex challenges is to get everyone on the pitch.

‘The ideas in the book took their full shape during my time at King’s, where I used the course and the support of Dr Alan Coffee and my fellow students to dig into and develop these ideas.

‘I started my study off the back of a decade working in the advertising industry, right at the heart of the Consumer Story. By the time I submitted my final paper, I had co-founded the consultancy, the New Citizenship Project, which works to support and challenge organisations of all shapes and sizes to make this shift in thinking and develop very different practices as a result.’