Product obsolescence and the erosion of consumer choice

Maycroft, Neil (2003) Product obsolescence and the erosion of consumer choice. In: British Sociological Association Annual Conference, ‘Desire, Excess & Waste’, April 2003, York. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

In the forty years since Vance Packard published The Waste Makers, product obsolescence has developed in many subtle and sophisticated ways. It is increasingly a significant dimension in the cycle of product research, development and manufacture. Yet its social and environmental impact remains largely unacknowledged. Product obsolescence continues to be elaborated and to undermine consumer choice, increasing costs of owning and using products, accelerating the destruction of useful objects and resulting in higher levels of ecological despoiling. Packard’s contribution and its reception will be outlined before considering the nature of contemporary product obsolescence. Conceptual and empirical detail will be discussed in relation to i) ‘in-built’ technological obsolescence –the design, development and incorporation of functionally fragile components leading to premature malfunction, ii) stylistic obsolescence –the styling or fashioning of myriad consumer objects such that they are deemed to have ‘worn out’ stylistically and aesthetically before they have failed functionally and, iii) the ‘superfluous within the necessary’ – the over-elaboration of products such that they are functionally ‘overprogrammed’, the specific design of many objects such that they cannot be repaired or adapted for alternate uses and, the way that many products urge and often require the subsequent consumption of extra goods and services simply to maintain them.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information:In the forty years since Vance Packard published The Waste Makers, product obsolescence has developed in many subtle and sophisticated ways. It is increasingly a significant dimension in the cycle of product research, development and manufacture. Yet its social and environmental impact remains largely unacknowledged. Product obsolescence continues to be elaborated and to undermine consumer choice, increasing costs of owning and using products, accelerating the destruction of useful objects and resulting in higher levels of ecological despoiling. Packard’s contribution and its reception will be outlined before considering the nature of contemporary product obsolescence. Conceptual and empirical detail will be discussed in relation to i) ‘in-built’ technological obsolescence –the design, development and incorporation of functionally fragile components leading to premature malfunction, ii) stylistic obsolescence –the styling or fashioning of myriad consumer objects such that they are deemed to have ‘worn out’ stylistically and aesthetically before they have failed functionally and, iii) the ‘superfluous within the necessary’ – the over-elaboration of products such that they are functionally ‘overprogrammed’, the specific design of many objects such that they cannot be repaired or adapted for alternate uses and, the way that many products urge and often require the subsequent consumption of extra goods and services simply to maintain them.
Keywords:Product design, Obsolescence, Consumer culture, Waste
Subjects:L Social studies > L300 Sociology
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Art & Design
ID Code:6777
Deposited By: Neil Maycroft
Deposited On:12 Nov 2012 07:05
Last Modified:12 Nov 2012 07:05

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