Anthropology of consumption


Anthropology of consumption

The aim of this group is to discuss issues of consumption through multiple perspectives, by investigating consumption as praxis, its relations to capitalism, historical developments and everydayness, ethnographic aspects...and more!

Members: 188
Latest Activity: Apr 19

David Harvey - "Is marxism still relevant today?"

Discussion Forum

Anthropology of waste (consumption/non-consumption/overconsumption) 2 Replies

Started by Kirrilly Thompson. Last reply by Simon Burns Nov 29, 2012.


Started by E Rey-Saturay. Last reply by Klaus Rominger Sep 25, 2011.

Comment Wall

Comment by Sabina Rossignoli on August 26, 2009 at 12:51pm
With regard to aestheticization, this article can maybe constitute an extension of the book you suggest (although I haven't got a hold of it yet):

Alladi Venkatesh a; Laurie A. Meamber, "The aesthetics of consumption and the consumer as an aesthetic subject", in Consumption Markets & Culture, Volume 11, Issue 1 March 2008 , pages 45 - 70.

This paper examines aesthetics in everyday consumption practices and patterns. Combining aesthetic theory with prior work of consumer scholars to support our theoretical framework, we investigate empirically the following issues: the integration of aesthetics into everyday consumption, the distinction between everyday aesthetics and of the arts, and the relationship between aestheti cs and the construction of meaning and identity. In addition, we introduce the idea of the consumer as an aesthetic subject. The data also shed light on the following aspects of aesthetic consumption: intrinsic value versus instrumental value, emotions, sensory pleasure, beauty, context, and taste formation.
Keywords: consumption; aesthetics; art; identity; aesthetic subject

It would be interesting to discuss further the contribution of Baudrillard to the study of consumption...
Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2009 at 1:04am
Is anyone else here aware of Forget Baudrillard?
Book by Chris Rojek, Bryan S. Turner; Routledge, 1993?
Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2009 at 1:28am
See second line of previous message.
Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2009 at 6:16pm
The following is from Chapter 1 "Baudrillard: history, hysteria and consumption" by Roy Porter in Forget Baudrillard?

‘Signs, signs? Is that all you have to say?’ In a powerful maturation of thought, first discernible in works such as Le Système des objets (1968) and La Société de consommation (1970) and culminating in L’Echange symbolique et la mort (1976) and Simulations (1981), Jean Baudrillard came to argue that a key characteristic of the contemporary world is that previously stable socioeconomic categories, notions like value and need, have lost their inherent meaning and objective anchorage. 1 Classical political economy posited such elements as independently determined; market forces might change their balance, but the pitch was clearly chalked out and the goalposts fixed. Capitalism, according to standard treatises, was a system of commodity production; value was produced by the labour (power) essential to manufacture; through the play of market forces, output responded to consumer demand, and demand was a function of need. There were iron laws of political economy, grounded in nature (the material world, natural need, the laws of utility), and known by science. Free-marketeers and Marxists might argue over the details, but the rules of the game—secular fluctuations of rate of profit, and so forth—were agreed touchstones. 2 The modern consumer society is another beast. It is, Baudrillard claimed, a system in which analysis of the laws of production has become obsolete. Consumption is all-important, and consumption has to be understood in a novel manner. Thanks to the twentieth-century revolutionization of consciousness—through mass communications, hi-tech media, the advertising and publicity industries, the empire of images throughout the global village—modern human beings now inhabit an artificial, hermetically sealed pleasuredome. Nothing is constant, everything reflects everything else in a theatre of dazzling simulations dominated by the proliferation of the sign and manipulated by ever-hidden persuaders. Desire itself is manufactured, and nothing any longer possesses intrinsic value, in and for itself. Meaning is produced by endless, symbolic exchanges within a dominant code, whose rhetoric is entirely self-referential; a sexy woman is used to sell a car; a car sells cigarettes; cigarettes sell machismo; machismo is used to sell jeans; and so the symbolic magic circle is sealed. Sex, youth, health, speed, style, power, money, mobility—all transvalue and interpenetrate in the mesmerizing dreamworld of ‘floating signifiers’ that typifies the ephemeral, destabilized vortex of late capitalism. Baudrillard likens such dizzying, ever-repeated, and omni-purpose emblems to the symptoms of hysteria:
The world of objects and of needs would thus be a world of general hysteria. Just as the organs and the functions of the body in hysterical conversion become a gigantic paradigm which the symptom replaces and refers to, in consumption objects become a vast paradigm designating another language through which something else speaks. 3
I find this allusion to ‘hysteria’ a singularly apt figure of speech, for a variety of reasons that I shall explore below. For one thing, semiologically speaking, both classical hysteria and modern capitalism evoke an intense, slippery, baffling network of fleeting, volatile manifestations (erratic pains, seizures, highs and depression in the individual; or crazes, fashions, publicity hypes, crises and crashes in the body politico-economic) which possibly serve as teasing surrogates for the underlying reality, or more likely mask an absence, a void, beneath and within. 4 As hysteria (or, as was sometimes said, ‘mysteria’) was often regarded as artifice, mimicry or malingering, or at best a trick of the psyche, so in contemporary capitalism, the measure of ‘health’, as recorded, say, by the Dow-Jones or FT index, is essentially nominal or ‘paper’, a token of self-induced confidence or panic. Hysteria in fin de siècle Vienna or Paris was not, in truth, an underlying disease but a script, a theatre of display, focused upon conversion; so, in a similar manner, modern capitalism deploys its own alchemy, depending on the blinding spectacle of high-speed circulation. The grand economic conjuring trick requires that all balls be kept moving, at high velocity, through the air at once; once one crashes to the ground, lo spettacolo è finito.

When I first read this passage, I had just finished reading Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism, of which the first two chapters can be found here. Where Baudrillard likens late capitalism to hysteria, Jameson describes it as schizophrenic, arguing that hysteria is a typically modern phenomenon, associated with repression, powerful feelings, and obsession with time and history. The schizophrenic postmodern is, instead, liberated to the point of boredom, characterized by lack of affect, constantly in the moment with no sense of history to speak of. The historical is all just past, available but safely neutralized on the other other side of the TV (or now computer) screen.

So, I ask those better informed than myself. Is Porter's description of Baudrillard accurate? If so, is hysteria or schizophrenia the better description of contemporary consumerism?

Looking forward to hearing from you.
Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2009 at 8:07pm
NIKOS writes, " In the consumer society ideas are JUST MEANINGLESS IMAGES projected on screens as advertisements and their messages are stereotyped slogans."

As both an ethnographer and as someone with 20-plus years working in and around the advertising industry, I stand witness to the fact that this statement is simply, factually wrong. I will not deny that most advertising, like most fiction, most self-help books, or most purported scholarship is crap. In any field of human endeavor the good stuff is rare. The fact of the matter is, however, that behind every piece of even moderately successful advertising is a team of often extremely smart people who work very hard to ensure that copy, images, acting, music, whatever the medium requires, are saturated with meaning, layered onto an idea whose one indispensable condition is that it say something compelling about the product or service advertised and must never, ever simply repeat what has been said about any similar product.

Historically, the argument that advertising is meaningless follows the same logic as that of Protestant critics of Papistry, modern art and architecture's critique of representation and "superfluous" design, and, philosophically speaking, the Logical Positivists' restriction meaning to empirically testable propositions, excluding anything having to do with emotion, feeling or other aspects of sensuous experience. They reflect, in other words, the bifurcation of reality to which A.N. Whitehead directs our attention in Science and the Modern World, in which reality and meaning are only allowed to models and propositions validated by rigorous scientific method, and the rest of our messy experience is dismissed as superficial.
Comment by John McCreery on August 27, 2009 at 8:12pm
NIKOS also writes, "Also, is there any distinction between what used to be called SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY and what we consider as anthropological theory today ?"

There may be some, e.g., where anthropologists steal ideas from linguistics or economics or literary criticism. But a reasonable generalization would say, "No." Insofar as we anthropologists continue to draw on Durkheim, Weber, Marx, or Simmel, we tap the same intellectual wells as our colleagues in sociology and other social sciences.

I find it ironic by the way that sociologists who label themselves sociologists of culture now talk with greater confidence about culture than anthropologists do.
Comment by Jeremy Johnson on August 27, 2009 at 8:49pm
As a sociologist-in-training (suppose you could call it that), I find kinship with anthropology. More or less, our disciplines share common theoretical and historical ancestors.
Comment by Sabina Rossignoli on August 27, 2009 at 10:52pm

can you tell me more about your ideas of "the impact on the masses"? I quote a passage by Daniel Miller's book I've just read (from Material culture and mass consumption):

"Such cultural practices cannot be reduced to mere social distinction, but should be seen as constituting a highly specific and often extremely important material presence generating possibilities of sociability and cognitive order, as well as engendering ideas of morality, ideal worlds and other abstractions and principles" (1987: 191)

If, one the one hand, there are intelligent adverts' creators who produce meaning, on the other hand can the consumer elaborate her social world around material things or there's only alienation? Can consumption convey, for instance, ideas about kin relations?
Comment by John McCreery on August 28, 2009 at 12:50am
From a similar discussion now underway on Carl Dyke's Dead Voles blog.

Sorry. Interrupted by my three-year-old grandson. Got to have priorities. But, seriously, I, too, feel an emotional resonance with, “If criticism can have any purpose then I think it should be to shout as loud as possible just MAKE something goddammit, and make it your own experience, your own life, your own feelings and thoughts.”While I do have reservations about much good coming of criticism that takes the form of shouting as loud as possible, I take very seriously, indeed, that “MAKE something.”

A recurrent theme in current debate in Japan is the difference between older generations who were dedicated to monozukuri, making things, and younger generations who seem preoccupied with henshu, “editing,” sampling and remixing instead of creation. This is seen as more than simply a turn from production to consumption; it may, says Atushi Miura, one of my favorite trendtrackers, be a shift in value from “owning” to “getting,” from the durable pleasure of ownership to the transient thrill of acquisition.

Imagine this model applied to scholarship, with desire to acquire the latest thing trumping the piling up of “solid” knowledge. Something to think about.
Comment by John McCreery on August 28, 2009 at 12:55am
Sabina asks,
Can consumption convey, for instance, ideas about kin relations?

It certainly can. I think, for example, of the highly successful advertising for the launch of the Honda StepWGN, a minivan with a low tailgate to facilitate loading and unloading stuff. The Japanese headline was, dokoka, kodomo to, ikimashou "Let's go somewhere with the kids." Directed at young parents, the campaign was a celebration of nuclear family, a topic of great interest in today's Japan, which has one of the lowest birthrates and most rapidly aging populations in the world.


You need to be a member of Anthropology of consumption to add comments!


Members (186)



OAC Press


© 2015   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service