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Is There a Relationship Between Consumption and Identity?

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In traditional societies, peoples identity was rooted in a set of social roles and values, which provided orientation and religious sanctions to define ones place in the world.

In modernity, identity is often characterised in terms of mutual recognition, as if ones identity depended on recognition from others combined with self- validation of this recognition. Identity still comes from a pre set of roles and norms. For example, a mother or a catholic, identities are still limited and fixed, though I believe the boundaries of possible new identities are continually expanding.

Current research suggests some theorists believe identity as something essential, substantial, fixed and essentially invariable. Yet other modern theorists consider the creation of identity as existential for each individual, using the personal responsibilities for ones own actions which create ones own moral values. Identity in modernity is associated to individuality to developing a uniquely individual self.

In my own research I have come to believe that in the consumer and media societies, identity has been increasingly linked to style, to producing an image, to how one looks. To have an identity people must develop their own look, style and image.

From this I want to argue that the world of consumption has a great influence on the way people create their identities. I shall explore important features of the nature and function of fashion, as it's relevance offers models and materials for constructing identity. I then want to further my argument on whether consumption is seen as a passive process reflecting producer interests or an active process representing consumer interests, as this can determine how ones identity, or lack of, is perceived.

The consumption of products and services is important for the way in which it functions to mark social differences and act as a communicator, but it also gives satisfaction. Style, status and group identification are aspects of identity value. People choose to display commodities or engage in different spheres of consumption in an attempt to express their identity in a certain sort of image. A clear example to demonstrate a way in which someone may communicate their identity is the football supporter. When referring to picture 1, by simply wearing a Manchester United shirt, a person is stating they are part of a group identity, a tribe who support and follow a specific team.


Fashion is an important constituent of ones identity, helping to determine how one is perceived and accepted. Fashion offers choices in clothes, style and

image through which one could produce an individual identity. There are several dimensions of the consumption of fashion: people consume fashion with the desire to maintain a sense of style; fashion is connected with self and identity and as part of the wider processes of lifestyle advertising, garments, accessories and their fabrics reinforce certain notions of status and personality, using clothing as a sign system. For example, textures from fabrics like satin, velvet and silk are soft and mysteriously attracts touch because of the shine surface. This could be attributed to the wearer expressing a soft, gentle, kind nature. As with heavier and thicker fabrics, such as tweed and leather, which may portray a more masculine character. As Alison Lurie states, "To some extent, fabric always stands for the skin of the person beneath it: if its strikingly slick or woolly, rough or smooth, thick or thin, we unconsciously attribute these characteristics to its wearer" (1)

Fashion is perceived as a form of communication, a particularly accident-prone form. For example, a suit and tie may be suitable for a business meeting, but not for wearing in a swimming pool. Significantly, people mis-read and differ in their interpretations. Consequently, appearances are increasingly seen to constitute personality and perhaps, religion, equating how one looks with how one is. This is a process open to positive and negative consequences alike, from parody and masquerade to deception and misunderstanding.

In a sense, fashion is associated with uncertainty and confusion concerning social values, especially concerning what is real or authentic. Some say that the nature of fashion is a 'depthless culture', stressing that fascination of fashion as the fascination of surfaces, of packing and of seduction, which leads to the suggestion that nothing defines us so instantly than as our clothes. Don't you think that when we meet someone new, before you have a chance to say a word, they have already jumped to a host of conclusions, based wholly on what you are wearing? We can manipulate other peoples opinion of us by what we wear.

Dependent on how we consume, may actually determine whether we are able to justify the high status that we , as human beings, continue to attribute to ourselves. In my research, I found evidence for several possible approaches to the way people use and interpret consumerism, however, I will discuss one portraying a negative sense and another, more positive.

Firstly, consumerism can be seen as a "euphoria in unhappiness" - an avoidance of the reality of the subservient role in the capitalist society for a means of short-term 'escape'. As Ken Sanes puts it, "we are all looking for some kind of "phony transendance". Advertisers capitalise on humanities deepest dream of transendance, our need for something of significance larger than our own lives, tapping into this resource and using it to convince us that mass produced goods are part of the answer" (2). For example, in terms of


fashion labels and branding, fashion groups



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