Consumer society is one that creates desire and encouragement for greater amount of goods, services and peoples identification with brands. A throwaway society is one that constantly creates waste for desire for new products. Nowadays, people self define in other ways leaning towards personal likes or dislikes such as music tastes, cars we drive or latest fashion accessories allowing people to feel a sense of belonging to particular groups in society As opposed to an Industrial society where people were defined by class structure and their profession.
This shift in culture offers us insight into how and why our relationship and values with material goods from buying to disposal helped form a consumer society and explore the claim Is a consumer society always a ‘throw away’ society? To enable an informed evaluation I will introduce the following factors mass consumption in U. K. contemporary society, supermarkets positive sum power and Bauman’s theory of ‘The Seduced and the Repressed’
Generally when we think of consumerism our immediate thoughts are what goods or services we have bought images of bags brimming with promotional food offers, new clothes and shoes or maybe treated oneself to a new kitchen as the last one looked ‘dated’. Rarely does our natural cognitive ability allow us to start at the end of this process to consider the waste and disposal that is created from such mass consumption. Waste is a function of who we are. ‘Evidence in the social sciences’, 2009, track 2) It is part of everyday life in that we all create a certain amount from daily essentials such as food its packaging, leaving the heating on or replacing household items. Notwithstanding the importance of eating, clothing ourselves and live in an environment conducive to health. One of the reasons for this change in attitude to shopping something that was considered mundane and necessary is the rise in affluence over the past 50 years.
The rise in affluence has come about due to more women in the workplace so ouseholds now have a dual income therefore more of a disposable income and the 40% rise over 17 years in employee’s earnings allowing people to have more money than ever before. (Brown, 2009, p. 110) Although difficult to measure the exact escalation in wealth we can see from total domestic outgoings that people now spend less on essential provisions and more on treats or what is referred to as ‘luxuries and necessities’ In 1957, 33% of income was spent on food yet in 2007 this reduced by 18%.
In contrast to a 16% rise over the same period for ‘services’ showing peoples values and habits have changed with the prospect of having more money to spend on items that are not needed but wanted. With more women in the workforce this places constraints on time to complete domestic chores or raise a family. Cheap kitchen appliances allow woman to enter the workforce this then generates greater affluence and income to support the purchase of yet more labour saving devices. Another best use of this valuable time is people visiting the supermarket.
For some, supermarkets offer freedom of choice for others it limits choice only selling what it wants to sell. Supermarkets lure us in with offers that cannot be beaten ‘buy one get one free’ or spend over ? 50. 00 and receive ? 5. 00 of your fuel. When you put it like that why wouldn’t you want to be part of it? They sell an abundance of items from food, clothing to the latest must have gadget, credit cards and insurance most of which is cheaper here than if you were to visit independent stores buying items separately and of course you don’t have the time to do this.
Supermarkets claim to work on a positive sum power ethos. This ethos argues that all benefit from this action – workers and farmers get a living wage and sell all their stock, consumers make purchase at cheap and affordable prices and supermarkets make profit. What is the alternative? The lowly paid worker does not earn a wage so is financially worse of? Or the farmer is left with surplus perishable stock that he cannot shift? Meaning fewer customers as people take their money elsewhere. Therefore from a supermarkets viewpoint they are doing everyone a favour.
So the consumer gets home unpacks the bags of food realising then that actually don’t having anything for dinner or the time cook a real meal. Instead puts on newly purchased cheap outfit and new shoes throwing out the ones bought only a few weeks ago along with food wasted from last weeks shop and goes out for dinner with friends without a care in the world other than being complimented and showing of new outfit to friends. Not even considering the waste created from one day helps accumulate approx 6. million tonnes of food wasted a year amounting to over ? 400 squandered per household annually . The current attitude is ‘I can replace goods cheaply and easily the important thing is that I fit in’. (The Food We Waste (WRAP) cited in Brown, 2009, p. 106) Within Bauman’s theory society is divided into two categories “The seduced and the repressed”. Depending on factors such as employment, education, wealth, age, gender, individuals belong in one or the other. This is a contentious view and deliberately so as it evokes emotion and dialogue.
Although it is not exactly accurate as some people choose where to shop maybe to support local businesses, not own a car for environmental reasons others are content with what they have and have no desire to conform. (Hetherington, 2009, p. 25) Given the title one would not wish to fall into the ‘repressed’ the majority of people will desire to be in the ‘seduced’ camp as here anything is possible if you have the means. Being here gives access to the ‘in crowd’ or ‘keeping up with the Jones’ even if that means buying beyond your means.
An example of this could be a child whose parents are unemployed, on benefits resulting in him not having the latest fashion trend or cool trainers might be in the ‘repressed’ category. Society forces pressure on the parents who succumb to the need of acceptance within a ‘seduced’ society reinforcing Bauman’s theory. I agree with this claim about a consumer society but not the word ‘always’ as it is a generalisation. The words ‘mostly’ or ‘sometimes’ are better suited as there are individuals and sections of society who consume conscientiously, aware of limited sustainability of natural resources.
There are those who value recycling and others who acknowledge that happiness is not a direct link of material gain. The recession along with education are driving forces on people’s attitudes towards consumerism and waste firstly the disposable income to spend is no longer available meaning people are having to make do with what they have and rethinking their current attitude. Secondly schools have to include projects as part of their curriculum exposing current and future generations to the existing issues and long term benefits of such a valuable process.
Courtney from Study Moose
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