Consumption and repression

Everyone agrees that people communicate through the things they consume. If we buy a certain brand, consumer researchers argue that it allows us to show everyone else what kind of person we are. To put this another way, we could say consumption allows us to communicate without speaking.

In my forthcoming paper in Marketing Theory, I explore how we  communicate through consumption – specifically the things we don’t want to say out loud because we too embarrassed.  I argue that we can stop others from speaking about something we don’t want them to talk about through our consumption. For example, when an adulterous husband/wife lavishes gifts on their partner, they might be doing this in a way that both shows they have something to feel guilty about and also provides an incentive for the partner to not ask too many questions (as much as the gift says “I have to make something up to you” – it also says “If you like getting expensive presents, don’t ask where I’ve been”).

In psychoanalysis the term for communicating in such a way as to keep something hidden is “repression”. As Billig puts it, repression is a way of saying think or talk about this but not that. If you want to find out more, read my paper. It’s fun. I illustrate how consumption allows us to repress with examples from Sigmund Freud’s own life.

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