Writing About Consumption

“The single main problem with conventional writing about consumption is that it seems to consist largely of authors who wish to claim that they are deep by trying to show how everyone else is shallow.” (Miller 2012, p. 107)

This is my new favourite quote. I don’t want to divulge my key findings, nor do I have time to get into a debate about this now but it’s a nice reminder of subjectivity and the self-importance of researchers, because rightly or wrongly I definitely could have fallen into this trap.

My PhD is all about consumption of material goods. Very early on, I had to make the distinction between consumption and consumerism. Consumption is a crucial element of social life and should be addressed as such. More than simply an act of purchase, consumption is a continuous process of consuming/partaking in/using up a good or service. It is intrinsic to everyday life and a way in which we construct meaning, assert identities and practice acts of love. Consumerism has more negative connotations. It is defined by the ‘desire’ rhetoric rather than ‘need’ and is a fundamental part of the postmodern era I view as distinguished by choice.

I’ve been rewriting my thesis literature review recently and it has been great to go back and see how all of the existing knowledge fits together, and how my studies add to the debates. Without exception humans require some level of consumption in order to survive and to meet basic physiological needs, but consumption over and above this has sparked widespread interest amongst scholars as an avenue for exploring identity construction, socialisation, social class and the relationship between people and material things. I find all of this fascinating, and my approach to the literature review is so different to 2.5 years ago when I started drafting review documents. I can now critique it and discuss it, drawing on historical, sociological and geographical literature to provide a basis for my empirical work.

Consumption and its Consequences by Daniel Miller, 2012

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