Greater social context Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 April 2017

Greater social context

The question ‘who am I? ’ is probably the most fundamental one a person can pose in their search for self-identity. Yet, as short and quaint as the question may appear, it has been one of the most deeply philosophized in the history of humankind. At the heart of the search for individual enlightenment is a discussion over the nature of identity which focuses on the ability of social constructs and influences to mold it. While Plato described the human being as eternal and unchangeable, later theorists such as Marx, Nietzsche and Stirner countered this view by placing individuals and their identities within a greater social context.

Essentialist and anti-essentialists have been arguing over the innateness and creation of individual identities for millennium but within the last hundred years we have seen a powerful new influence over identity, consumerism, complicate the debate. The purpose of this work is to ask to what extent the rise in consumerism over the last decade has affected the construction of our identities. Consumerism and Identity Consumerism is most often defined by a buyer’s identification with the products and services they purchase.

The connection between big brand names and status enhancement has been continually made by those who argue that consumer products are a means of proclaiming and identifying social status in consumer cultures. Some would go so far as to question whether we are in fact replacing human relations with consumer products. April Benson, in her book I Shop Therefore I Am, deals with the very personal nature of consumer shopping. She places great significance on the consumption of products as the affirmation and even the creation of identity.

Using a play on words of Descarte’s famous phrase, Benson unites the search for identity with the act of shopping in modern times. In fact, the title implies that shopping is directly responsible for the buyer’s existence. Benson states that shopping “is a way we search for ourselves and our place in the world. ” She adds, “Shopping is an interactive process through which we dialogue not only with people, places, and things, but also with parts of ourselves.

This dynamic, yet reflective process, reveals and gives form to pieces of self that might otherwise remain dormant…the act of shopping is one of self-expression, one that allows us to discover who we are. That consumerism comes from within and is not a social construct has been argued against by anti-essentialists for years. For theorists such as Marx, Nietzsche, Stirner and Sartre, the very nature of self-identity, namely the formation of identity by social constructs from the time of birth, signifies that consumerism is inbred into individuals rather than being an innate quality.

Jean Paul Sartre held, “existence precedes and rules essence. ” Once we exist it is essential that we counter the great nothingness by embracing existence and coming into contact with the world. In fact for Sartre anything that came to stand between the self and the world was dangerous. Modern day anti-essentialists argue that today’s consumer society is in fact a construct of the overblown advertising industry and its media counterpart.

Seen through this lens consumerism comes purely from social pressure rather than a person’s true wishes and desires. Within various areas of study there is a commonly held belief that identity arises largely from social construction and that it would be impossible to separate the parallel nature of individual identity and collective identity. Jenkins outlined this relationship in his theory of the “internal-external dialect of identification”, which contends that individual identity is validated through social identity.

Ewen and Ewen believe that the search for identity has in fact been derailed by these social constructs and that it is now the norm that people are constantly in the process of recreating themselves through various bought identities. For the authors there are no longer rules, “only choices. ” They add that in this context, “Everyone can be anyone. ” This ability to take on and take off identities has resulted in a world where identity is no longer clearly defined as it once was by socio-economic status. Some authors would go so far as to state that today’s society rife with consumerism produces individuals with no concept of self.

Others suggest that the rampant individualism of liberal societies coupled with and equally rampant consumerism links common values such as freedom of choice and autonomy, that have resulted in the rise of social addictions. Whether consumerism has lead to a loss of identity is refuted by essentialist theorists. If identity can come into being and may in fact be a stated fact uninfluenced by our highly integrated society then consumption could not be having the negative affect on identity that anti-essentialists claim it is having.

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  • Date: 19 April 2017

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