Consumerism: reflections in a splintered paradigm

Maycroft, Neil (2016) Consumerism: reflections in a splintered paradigm. In: Human Being, Society, Culture: Critical Multidisciplinary Reflections On Essences And Research Paradigms, 21 - 22 April 2016, University of Kiel, Germany.

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My paper begins by arguing that a focus on consumption, as a plausible explanation for the nature of modern life, results in a restricted view of the mechanisms, forces and processes which shape our social relations. This is especially so when consumption becomes a research paradigm that claims to unlock our understanding of society. The paper will then argue that a focus on consumerism, as the key element of consumption, leads to both a restricted view of consumption and to an even more attenuated account of contemporary social relations and conditions. A thin slice of a paradigm becomes a magnified but distorting, lens through which to analyse society. Emphasising consumerism, with its focus on ‘lifestyle’, identity and novelty, also misses much out. The paper will attempt to fill some of these gaps. First, I will consider some overlooked aspects of consumption; institutional consumption, storing and its attendant problems, and the role played by obsolescence. Second, a critical view of the ‘pathologies’ of consumption will be discussed, for example, the ideology of choice, the problems of attending to the ‘world of goods’, and the challenges associated with the disposition of consumer goods. I especially scrutinise two fashionable ideas, first, that consumer societies have reached the point of ‘peak stuff’ and, second, that a neurological explanation for consumerism has naturalised contemporary consumption practices. The paper then examines the structuring of everyday life by obligatory consumption practices (in which I include the maintenance and disposition of goods). The paper will conclude by returning to the beginning, connecting an analysis of contemporary consumption to other significant aspects of modern life, especially family life and work. Contemporary consumption cannot be fully understood without considering its wider social location, especially the way its internal logic structures a particular ‘flavour’ of personal, social, cultural and political-economic life.

Keywords:Consumption, Consumerism
Subjects:L Social studies > L990 Social studies not elsewhere classified
L Social studies > L300 Sociology
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Design)
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ID Code:29943
Deposited On:01 Feb 2018 09:45

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