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Relationship Between Consumption And The Self Sociology Essay

Consumption has always been an important aspect of human society, in different ways at different times and in different places (Clarke 2003). The consumer revolution, the birth of which is a subject of debates (McKendrick claims to have discovered it in the eighteenth century England, Williams- in nineteenth century France, and Mukerji- in fifteenth and sixteenth century England), represents not just a change in tastes, preferences, and purchasing habits but a fundamental shift in the culture of the early modern and modern world. (McCracken 1988) The consumer revolution is seen to have changed Western concept of time, space, society, the individual, and the state. Western culture gradually became increasingly dependent on and integrated with the new consumer goods and practices, which appeared from the sixteenth century onwards; culture and consumption began to fashion their present relationship of deeply complicated mutuality.(McCracken 1988) In such a consumer culture, consumption has an important significance to the meaningful practices of peoples everyday life. That is, they not only make their consumption choices from the products utilities but also from their symbolic meanings. Basically, consumption is employed not only to create and sustain self but to locate people in society as well. However, from a critical point of view, seeking to create the self through symbolic consumption can also contribute to the enslavement of individuals in the deceptive world of consumption. The following paper seeks to explore the theoretical approaches regarding the relationship between consumption and the self.

{In the postmodern world} Our Identity is moulded as consumers. (Sarup 1996, p.120)

...Living life to the full became increasingly synonymous with consumption. (Gabriel and Lang 1995, p.7)

The construction of self in modern society is considered to be invariably linked to consumption. The modern society undoubtedly represents a consumer culture, where peoples life functions in the scope of consumption. (Firat and Venkatesh 1995) It is, peoples social arrangement in which the relation between lived culture and social resources, between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, is mediated trough markets .(Slater 1997, p.8) Hence consumption is of great importance to the allusive practice of individuals everyday life. Along with the creation and maintenance of the self, consumption is also employed in order to locate different individuals in society (Elliott 1994a). The various material goods that people buy, the ideals and beliefs they held show who they actually are and whom they identify with. Indeed, people consume various things not only for satisfaction of personal needs but also for creation of their self-creation projects (i.e. for sense of significance in their pursuit of being ), which may be achieved symbolically through mundane consumption. The validity of this is confirmed by a considerable amount of literature. Lang and Gabriel argue that whether one is looking for happiness, identity, beauty, love , et cetera, there is a commodity somewhere which guarantees to prove it. In McCracken point of view, different products embody qualities that reach beyond their attributes or commercial value, which means, they are capable of carrying and accommodating cultural meanings. Symbolically, people use these meanings in order to create cultural idea of the self, to obtain and maintain lifestyles, to represent social connections and to promote changes in society and the self. (McCracken 1988) In other words, people consume these cultural ideas in order to exist in this culturally composing world. McCracken (1988a, p. Xi) confirms the latter point: without consumer goods, certain acts of self-definition and collective definition in this culture would be impossible.

Shopping is not merely the acquisition of things: it is the buying of identity. (Clammer 1992, p. 223)

Sartre (1998) argues that The bond of possessions is an internal bond of being. (p. 588)

He emphasizes on the idea that people come to know who they are trough what they possess. By actually observing their material possessions they structure and sustain a notion of existential self. The idea of seeing is of vital importance, because as Sartre states to see it is already to possess it. In itself it is already apprehended by sight as a symbol of being . Thus, when see a superb landscape, people are capable of obtaining a notion of possessing the given landscape, and then associating it with their sense of being . This idea illustrates how people acquire a feeling of existing trough window shopping alone. To have is to be concept is also asserted by Belk (1988) and Dittmar (1992). Dittmar (1992, p. 204-06) argues:

Material possessions have socially constructed meanings ...this symbolic dimension of material objects plays an important role for the owner s identity. ...This suggests that material social reality in an integral, pervasive aspect of everyday social life, of constructing ourselves and others.

Belk (1988) in his examination of the connection between having and being , states that it is a two-fold process working in both directions respectively. Not only do people place their self-identities into their possession but they also integrate the latter into their identities; that is mirrored in the so called self-extensions process (i.e. the extended self). As extension of the self, peoples possessions not only enable them to find their actual characters but to achieve or adjust their sense of continuity from the past. Thus, material possessions act as a capacity to manage individual s life in its current course.

As stated above to have is to be but to have also means to belong . Richins (1994, p. 523) states, Possessions are part of the social communication system and are sometimes actively used to communicate aspects of the self. Undoubtedly, when obtain personal possession that expresses peoples individual sense of identity and their sense of belonging to a group and collective identity. Material things encompass symbolic meanings, trough which a bridging of the self to others in society is possible. Dittmar (1992, p. 11) states:

The notion that we express our identity trough our material possessions, and make inferences about the identity of others, on the basis of what they possess, means that there must be socially material objects as symbolic manifestation of identity.

Nowadays, people are able to use consumption symbolically in order to gain a considerable sense of belonging to various imagined communities (Anderson 1983) or different neo-tribes (Maffesoli 1988). Thus, people consume different products that add to the symbolic means of identification of the self, trough which they associate themselves emotionally with those sharing their lifestyles. (Gabriel and Lang 1995)

Consumption, as it has been stated in the above paragraphs, provides people with symbolic meanings to construct their self and identity, but it also can imprison them to the superficial sense of self and the enduring consumption. Therefore, from a critical perspective, to have means to be enslaved.

If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I? (Fromm 1976, p. 76)

According to Fromm, seeking to obtain a sense of being trough having hides a risk of losing it since having may not stay permanently. Contrary, he raises the idea that people realize the self by giving and sharing practices, et cetera. To have contributes to peoples enslavement of their own possessions. (Fromm 1976) People become slaves (i.e. commodities) in the realm of goods (Giddens 1991). Faurschou (1987, p. 82) argues:

{Postmodernity is} ...no longer an age in which bodies produce commodities, but where commodities produce bodies: bodies for aerobic, bodies for sport cars, bodies for vacations, bodies for Pepsi, for Coke, and of course bodies for fashion total bodies-a total look. The colonization of the body as its own production/consumption machine in late capitalism is a fundamental theme of contemporary civilization.

The belief that people are capable of exercising their freedom through certain choices seems unrealistic. Actually, we all not only follow lifestyles, but in an important sense are forced to do so-we have no choice but to choose (Gidddens 1991, p. 8). Also, Elliot (1994b) states that the pleasure, more specifically the immediate one derived from numerous consumption practices may imprison people in the scope of addictive consumption. Gergen (1991, p. 74-5) shows some apprehension over freedom of consumption:

Yet this same freedom ironically leads to a form of enslavement. Each new desire places its demands and reduces one s liberties. ...Liberation becomes a swirling vertigo of demands. Daily life has become a sea of drowning demands, and there is no shore in sigh.

The will and eagerness to be more, to grow more, to accumulate more and more, and more results in suffering and self-destruction of the individual. The only possible way of letting go this degenerated cycle is to accept the idea that to be is merely an illusion. Consequently, people should let go of their will to be , leave alone the desire to have .

Considering all that has been stated above in the current paper about relationship between self and consumption strongly confirms their cooperative coexisting within and in developed societies of the contemporary world. The consumer is seen as caught in a cultural project (McCracken 1988), which main purpose is to achieve a full completion of the self. The consumer machine provides individuals with the necessary cultural materials in order to rationalise their varying ideas about themselves and their social roles in society. All of their cultural notions are embodied in the symbolic nature of goods, and it is through their possession and practices that individual understands the meaning in his own life. As Kavanaugh states, ...individuals in a society create themselves or define themselves culturally through the objectification of {a culture s} conceptual models in centrally prescribed phenomenal forms (McCracken 1988).

It is through the systematic endowing of the meaningful properties of objects/goods that individual satisfied the opportunity and responsibility of self-definition. The logic and directions of this process of self and world construction through the nature of goods has been increasingly understudied and since recently it has been drawn accurate exploration. But which still needs further examination.


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