Identifying Consumption

Identifying Consumption: Subjects and Objects in Consumer Society

Robert G. Dunn
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Identifying Consumption
    Book Description:

    Identifying Consumptionillustrates how an individual's buying habits are shaped by the dynamics of the consumer marketplace-and thus how consumption and identity inform each other. Robert Dunn brings together the various theories of spending and develops a mode of analysis concentrating on the individual subjectivity of consumption. By doing so, he addresses how we spend and its relationship with status and lifestyle.

    Dunn provides a comprehensive guide to the study of modern consumer behavior before summarizing and critiquing the major theories of consumption. At this juncture, he proposes a method of analysis that focuses on the significance of status and lifestyle in social relations that can help explain how the consumer marketplace is shaped. He concludes by raising issues about different ways of consuming and the relationship between consumption and identity.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-871-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Broadly understood, “consumption” defies simple definition, encompassing a vast range of human practices and mental and feeling states (shopping, buying, acquiring, using, possessing, displaying, maintaining, collecting, wasting, desiring, daydreaming, fantasizing), all of which involve complex relations and attachments to an infinite variety of objects and experiences. Material expansion and the proliferation of new forms of consumption have rendered mainstream economic ideas about consumption obsolete. Images and information are now consumed in greater quantities than goods and services, a result of tremendous growth in those sectors of the culture industry specializing in signifying processes designed to entertain and sell. This new...

  5. Part I Commodities, Objects, the Subject

    • 1 The Triumph of the Commodity: Theoretical Lineages
      (pp. 21-50)

      In many respects, the contemporary world of commodities is no different from the object world of premodern societies (Appadurai 1988, Douglas and Isherwood 1996). In both cases, objects perform indispensable material and cultural functions for members of the group. Modern society, however, has created a vast and dynamicsystemof objects whose main purpose is economic.

      The cultural foundations of modern consumption would be unthinkable without the gigantic economic system created by modern markets and technologies. The objects of modern society have been absorbed into a complex system of commodity exchange within which they circulate and that imparts to them...

    • 2 Culturalizing Consumption
      (pp. 51-76)

      In recent de cades, “culture” has become uncommonly popular in academic studies.¹ To provide a brief background, a growing formalistic concern with the problem of meaning—culture’sélan vital—first emerged in the twentieth-century linguistic turn,² a development in which philosophers took up a variety of problems associated with language and its uses. This led eventually to the formation of three distinct but overlapping bodies of theory: semiotics, structuralism, and poststructuralism.³ Despite important differences, the unifying thread of these theories has been a claim for the primacy of language and discourse as the irreducible ground of meaning. The main popular...

    • 3 The Subjectivity of Consumption
      (pp. 77-118)

      Men (sic) make their own history but they do not make it… under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.”¹ This familiar quotation from Marx remains a classic nineteenth-century expression of what is generally regarded as the central problem of modern social theory: the dualism of subject and object, or what has come to be known as the “agency/structure” problem. In most formulations, the term “agency” has been substituted for “making history” to introduce an analytical expression for the truism that people act, an axiom with implications of freedom, choice, and autonomy....

  6. Part II Lifestyle, Status, Identity

    • 4 The Social Relations of Consumption
      (pp. 121-156)

      An appropriate reading of the place of consumption in the modern search for identity requires locating commodities and selves in their social context. In this regard, the distinguishing feature of modern consumption is the emergence of what has come to be called “lifestyle.”¹ Through culturally inscribed codes and symbols, lifestyle patterns give expressive coherence to the social practices accompanying the rise of consumer culture and consumers’ participation in the modern project of selfhood.

      The concept of lifestyle is central to a mapping of contemporary consumption practices in general and issues of identity in particular. Regarding the latter, lifestyle functions as...

    • 5 The Identity of Consumption
      (pp. 157-190)

      Since the beginning of modernity, the theme of identity has been a preoccupation of thinkers in disciplines ranging from philosophy to the social sciences to literature and the visual arts. In recent de cades, the topic of identity has received an extraordinary amount of attention in academic discourse.¹ Initially a response to the identity politics of the seventies, identity has also been at the center of theoretical and political engagement with issues of social and cultural difference emerging from “globalization,” manifested in a burgeoning “postcolonial” scholarship addressing questions of nationalism, race, and ethnicity. As a result of these developments, identity...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-200)

    The legacy of critical thought informing this study remains an important source of ideas in controversies and debates about high-consumption society. The traditions of commodity critique, cultural studies, and social criticism of status seeking and hedonism are still relevant to the study of consumer society, consumer culture, and consumerism. On balance, however, these bodies of thought have given undue weight to structural forces, be they materialist, cultural, or ideological in nature. This is particularly true of theories under the sway of structuralism, poststructuralism, and semiotics, all of which underprivilege the role of subjectivity. At the same time, those varieties of...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 201-212)
  9. References
    (pp. 213-224)
  10. Index
    (pp. 225-236)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)