Part Four: Audiences & Identity
43 Consumerism and Subjectivity
Researchers in the field of consumer cultures are interested in studying consumer choice and behavior from a social and cultural point of view, as opposed to an economical and psychological one.
In order to achieve an appropriate understanding of the processes of consumption, it is essential to consider and analyze the activity of the subjects who practice them. Moreover, it is essential to contextualize the activity of the subjects who perform their choices and behaviors inside a net of power relations that control and organize the availability of goods in the marketplace. Therefore, it is important to consider consumer practices and subjectivities as an autonomous social sphere, although strictly related to the sphere of production and commercialization.
Consumer culture researchers do not consider culture as a homogenous system of collectively shared meanings, values and ways of life. In fact, culture is characterized by a multiplicity of ways of production and distribution of meanings and values operated by different cultural groups. In this regard, the term “consumer culture” also points to conceptualizing a commercially produced system of images, texts and objects that different groups appropriate in different ways. They use these to make collective sense of their spaces, experiences and lives, communicating meanings that are often inaccessible to outsiders. Consumers become producers of culture and, in so doing, they also seek to make their own identity as individuals and as members of social groups. Therefore, the marketplace becomes a source of resources which people approach and re-signify to the extent that they can access or not access it as consumers. This opens up new possibilities of communication, as well as relationships to the commodity culture, offered by the marketplace.
In fact, as consumers actively rework and transform symbolic meanings made available by the marketplace, they can also construct their own selves and communities in opposition to commodity culture, by performing practices of consumers’ resistance. The ways through which specific consumers appropriate commercial brands or products to deliver messages of resistance are various and highlights the creative potential that can be involved in consumer practices. In this case we can talk of consumer subcultures that are often engaged in various forms of ‘guerrilla’ resistance in order to state their own ideas and consolidate their group identity. There are innumerable examples of guerrilla consumer resistance:
New Zealand resistance to GM food products is an ongoing example of consumer action. Although this particular issue is international, local resistance, allied to over seas market resistance, has succeeded in keeping GM crops from New Zealand. See “NZ’S GM stance reflects consumer resistance, markets’ needs“.
Consumer resistance can also express itself through the creative practices of everyday life and eventually consolidate in a way of living that is grounded, among other things, in the aesthetics of resistance and vehicles of new meanings.
- Search for any other local examples of consumer resistance in the media.
- Consider the various points of view in the controversy and how the media portrays those stances. Balance the study across many media sources.