Does Consumption Create New Social Divisions?

Topics: Sociology, Social class, Working class Pages: 6 (1541 words) Published: February 1, 2014
Outline the claim that consumption creates new social divisions.

Modern society has changed in many ways over the years. This essay will focus on new and old social divisions to establish how society has transformed, outlining how consumption creates new social divisions. Hetherington (2009, p13) defines consuming as: “The acquisition, use and disposal of goods and services. This subject is important in terms of indicating how society is changing in fundamental ways. Evidence for this Essay is taken from the works of commentators, core text and from independent research. Given the constraints of the assignment this paper shall consider three principal areas, which consist of; fiscal, class and business influence.

These Three areas are only a segment of what consists of modern consumerism and how these create new social divisions. Fiscal looks at how the rich are favoured in a consumer society and the less fortunate can be subject to social exclusion. Secondly are the classes and whether classes are as important to us today and how images are portrayed through the things we buy. Finally how the influence of supermarkets and other commercial enterprises, which are trying to dominate the market and the affect they are having on societies.

Zygmunt Bauman, argues that we are now living in a predominantly consumerist society rather than an industrial society. Even though both societies show inequalities the ones that become apparent in a consumer society are different from those previously apparent (Hetherington, 2009). In the present day we still have an affluent upper class, who are able to consume more effectively, nevertheless consuming has become an essential part of many peoples identities. This reflects on how people see themselves and how others see them, which is portrayed by the things they buy and services they use. It appears to be more common, as anyone with a secure job or steady income earn enough money to buy more than their basic necessities, therefore are creating consumer lifestyles and expressing their identities (Hetherington, 2009). (Bauman, 1988) labelled these people as “The Seduced” as it was evident that they were conforming to the pressures of consuming and not doing so could easily lead to social exclusion. At the other end of the spectrum are “The Repressed”, which Bauman describes as people who are unable to consume effectively. Amongst these people may be the unemployed, elderly or disabled who were required to spend their money appropriately to pay for things such as, prescriptions or healthcare (Hetherington, 2009). This highlights a significant divide between what Bauman calls the seduced and the repressed, which also can be considered class division.

Historically a person’s class, social status and job title characterized their identities. It was only the very affluent, the upper classes and the higher paid working classes such as doctors, bankers and lawyers who were able to distinguish themselves as consumers by the indulgent lifestyles they lived. Throughout the eighteenth century there was a prevailing historical discourse where historians portrayed a society that was already being influenced by consumerism. The higher and middle class would buy items and lead lavish lifestyle not just for usefulness but also as a way to display their rank and status amongst society. Things like porcelain, silver, tea and fine clothes, we also see this in contemporary society, but rather with newly rich celebrities. This particular way of spending social scientists have theorised as being conspicuous consumption (Hetherington, 2009). Historically class separated society with the higher classes setting the standard for luxurious lifestyles, which the working class might be envious of and aspire to. In contemporary society it is the celebrity culture that set the standard in this fashion-driven paradigm.

Currently we find that the working class and the middle class are now few and far...

References: Allen, J. (2009) ‘One-stop shopping: the power of supermarkets’, in Taylor, S., Hinchliffe, S., Clarke, J. and Bromley, S. (eds) Making Social Lives, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Bauman, Z
Hetherington, K. (2009) ‘Consumer society? Shopping, consumption and social science’, in Taylor, S., Hinchliffe, S., Clarke, J. and Bromley, S. (eds) Making Social Lives, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
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