The Scrutiny Of Consumption Cultural Studies Essay

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Over the last century there has been an increase in research exploring the meanings behind, and practices of, consumption. Historical, anthropological, sociological and cultural approaches to food and foodways (Bourdieu 1984, Miller 1987, Douglas 1971, Tomlinson 1990, Du Gay 1996, McRobbie, 2004) have engendered debates about the relationship between social structures and consumption practices. However, despite being an area which is often thought of as being inconsequential and somewhat over-theorised, there are still some areas of consumption which need more attention (Crang at al 1996).

Today, understanding consumption procedures are integral to debates about the links between society and space (Jackson et al 1995). Consumption can act as a link between people and places, whether it to the place where the buying act has taken place, or the location where the commodity has been produced. Miller (1995) asserts that consumption should be followed as 'a dialectic between the specificity of regions, groups and particular commodity forms on the one hand, and the generality of global shifts in the political economy and contradictions of culture on the other' (ibid: 34). Therefore consumption depends on extensive commodity chains, not only on 'networks of other consumers and sites of consumption' (Crang 1996: 710). Hence increasing mass consumption creates links on a larger scale, and these scales have been 'produced in and through societal activity, which, in turn produces and is produced by geographical structures of social interaction' (Smith 1993 in Bell et al 1997:12). Goodman et al (2010) also state that 'space and place make and are made in and through consumption' (ibid: 5). A somewhat essentialised conceptualisation 'of consumption as also production and production as also consumption' (ibid: 25) is employed by Goodman et al. Therefore space and place, as well as production, provision and consumption are all intrinsically intertwined and influenced by each other (Crang 1996). In this light, consumption is increasingly thought to be a process which is not only the singular act of buying something, but extends beyond that to the other elements of behaviour, including the range of different interactions between the consumer and producer (Jackson et al 1995).

Despite this, consumer engagement with the processes behind their product is limited. This culture of commodity fetishism has arisen through consumers focusing on 'relations to goods per se at the expense of genuine social interaction', which has drawn attention away from 'the actual relationship between people and goods in industrial societies' (Miller 1987: 4). With regard to this, ethical issues have been raised (Hartwick 2000), and there have been calls to blur the boundaries between production and consumption and the economic and cultural elements of commodity acquisition (Du Gay 1996). Thus, I will argue that alternative food practices can be used as a method of considering not only the wider patterns in contemporary food consumption and the connections between society and space, but also the ties between the producer and consumer.

Consumption cannot simply be viewed as a solely economic act, but as 'eminently social, relational and active' due to being placed within a socio-cultural sphere (Crewe et al 1998: 50). Some suggest that consumers are swayed by socially constructed ideas and that 'culturally meaningful goods and experiences become the objects and subjects to be provided and consumed' (Crang 1996: 709). The symbolic value of food consumption practices can represent certain cultural and social characteristics (Warde 1997), and food has now become 'packed with social, cultural and symbolic meaning' (Bell et al 1997: 3). Nowhere is this more in evidence than with brands such as Starbucks, which trades on 'the 300 year old market for the tropical commodity' but also the 'less tangible symbolic economy of images and representations' (Smith 1996 in Goodman et al 2010: 16). Consequently this research aims to demonstrate how reflective shopping habits at FMs are entrenched with symbolic meanings, with particular focus on the way people relate to performed and imagined ideas. I hope to link this research with that of more mainstream shopping habits, as there are claims that work of this nature has been largely neglected (Crewe et al 1998, Goodman 2010).

The reflective process of examining consumer's perspectives about ethics and traceability, and the concern with how people construct knowledge about where their food comes from can all be linked with the aforementioned ties between producer and consumer. This construction of meaning relates with the concept that shopping practices can portray a particular social class, and that consumption can become the basis of identity. Mansvelt (2005 in Goodman et al 2010: 26) puts it that 'consumption is a medium through which people can create and signify their identities', drawing on Bourdieu's (1984) concept of habitus. He stated that consumption is an 'expression of class position', shopping patterns can be used to identify particular classes, and 'consumer behaviour can be explained in terms of the role of display and the social judgement in the formation of class identities' (Warde 1997: 9). Particular tastes can act as markers of a certain social class, so consumers are encouraged to shape their lives by 'the use of their purchasing power and to make sense of their existence by excising their freedom to choose' (Du Gay 1996: 77). This can also be applied to community identity which can be enforced through a series of common ideals (Bell et al 1997).

Identity - Bourdieu and Bauman - how people perceive things, themselves and each other. Reflective process.

Community identity portrayed through common ideals and similar consumption practices.

It has been suggested that more research is needed into the complexities of such themes as localness and quality (Holloway and Kneafsey)

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