You Are What You Buy: Self-Making through Consumption and Consumer-Making as Self-Expression

Mon 16, 11:20-11:50 am PDT

In a modern, affluent society, consumption habits play an important role in self-expression and establishing status. People engaging in conspicuous consumption purchase various expensive items or services in order to display their affluent status. In some social circles, such display is even necessary in order to be accepted as a member of the group. Furthermore, our consumption choices, even when our purchases are not particularly displays of wealth, are frequently taken as expressions of who we are and what our values are. Are you a vegan or a meat-eater? Do you wear make-up? What is your clothing style? How do you decorate your home? Do you prefer hand-crafted items made of organic materials or mass-produced items made of plastic? Which manufacturing brands do you prefer? What kind of value-commitment can be inferred from the items you own and the services you pay for?

In other words, our consumption choices, as long as they involve choices between different options, strongly influence how we are viewed by others, which social groups we are let into or considered as belonging to, what values we are believed to hold, etc. But the effect is not only on how others view us, but on how we view ourselves. At least to some extent, we take ourselves to be expressing who we are and what we stand for via our consumption choices. Thus, important aspects of our own self-image as well as others‘ conception of us, are formed by what we pay for. In turn, this self-image along with how we are received and perceived by others and our membership in various social groups feeds back into our future consumer behavior: The consumer is susceptible to a looping effect; consumers are what has been called an interactive kind.

It has been argued that the notion of interactive kinds could be aided by a more robust notion of self. The aim of this talk is to fill out an example of an interactive kind, the consumer, by tying it to the construction of self-image and the social self via consumption choices.


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