The unmanageable consumer

I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Yiannis Gabriel and others at the ESRC Seminar on Marketplace Exclusions at the University of Leicester this week. I’ll blog about it more soon. Yiannis, Lizzie Nixon, James Fitchett and I were discussing the concept of consumption. Reflecting on this discussion brought me back to ‘The Unmanageable Consumer’ by Yiannis and Tim Lang.

It is a great book in which they set out a number of masks and faces that contemporary consumer culture uses to make sense of ‘the consumer’ – so we see consumers as rational decision makers, thrill seekers, dupes and so on.  Their point in the book, as I understand it, is that there is not any consistency or sense between these masks. But I’m now thinking that they have made a fundamental logic flaw. They take the consumer as the starting point. I’m sure this is wrong. Contemporary consumer culture places the mask of consumption over the artists, the lover and so on not the other way around.

The more I think about this the more sense it makes. After all, consumption itself is a “construct”. It is not a objective feature of the world. It is a face or mask placed over people. I’ve not fully re-read the book yet so this thought might be more about the reception of the book rather than the book itself.

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