The Deeper Meaning Of Shopping

shoppingShopping and the consumerist impulse are lambasted as empty and selfish. But the New Left Project has an entirely different, novel view of consumerism:

Shopping is usually a collective act. Most of the time it is done in groups, in families or with friends. Much of our consumption is for other people; or we have other people in mind when we’re doing it. In the supermarket, we buy for our families. In the high street, teenagers buy the same clothes and music as their peer group. Consumption by children and adults is driven by a sense of what we need to keep our collective lives together; and by the way in which owning the same things as others gives us status amongst our peers.

In their effort to reformulate progressive politics, many on the left have called for the creation of a `post-consumer society’ in which more noble values than shopping lie at the centre of British life. Neil Lawson, Director of Compass, blames consumerism for most of the ills of modern capitalism, from the decline of democracy to climate change. A similar point is made in very different language on the right. Conservatives like Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts suggest that our present `orgy of consumerism’ undermines common `Christian values’ and `sensible husbandry’. In public discourse the abstract concept of `consumerism’ almost always describes a bad thing. Consumerism is criticised as a debilitating condition that destroys the sources of solidarity and common life. The critique in each case is that consumption is driven by a selfish desire to infinitely accumulate.

Perhaps politicians and policy-makers don’t spend enough time shopping. But for whatever reason, the people who read journals like this seem to have forgotten that consumption is a social act. The individual act of handing over cash or card at the checkout or clicking `buy’ on our PC takes up a tiny fraction of our lives as consumers. Most of our time `consuming’ is spent on thinking about how the objects we want relate to the people we live around. Either we are directly buying things for other people (`will my husband like this for his tea?’) or thinking about how other people will relate to them (`what will my girlfriend think of these jeans?’).

After spending a year watching ordinary shoppers in north London, the anthropologist Daniel Miller concluded that everyday shopping for provisions is a ritual, performed largely by women, centring on `love and sacrifice’. Rather than being a pointless act of individual consumption, Miller found that most shopping was dominated by devotion to those who we care for, often to the point of self-denial. Thrift is essential. Shopping is a learnt skill, in which we try to save rather than spend profligately, as we compare prices, look for bargains and often simply refuse to buy when we think things are too dear. As Miller argues, shopping is an act that `objectifies certain values’. In other words, it expresses the things we hold dear. For some, of course, it does objectify an attachment to hedonism and excess. But for most of us, though, it expresses love, devotion and concern for people in the small communities, families, groups of friends and neighbourhoods that make up our lives. Rather than expressing rampant selfishness, shopping embodies the importance of small-scale solidarity and ethical responsibility. Much of the time, those who criticise consumerism are opposing an entirely artificial and unrealistic conception of how people relate to things.

Read the rest at New Left Project

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18 Responses to The Deeper Meaning Of Shopping

  1. Tchoutoye November 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Maybe it’s because I hate shopping that I’m not willing to buy this view.

    • Heath November 11, 2011 at 3:23 am #

      Or maybe because you don’t have a sweet mullet and just bought the new Journey album at Tape world

  2. Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    Maybe it’s because I hate shopping that I’m not willing to buy this view.

  3. Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    I agree that people have a social relationship to the PROCESS of shopping, but ‘consumerism’ as a model lifestyle is INDEFENSIBLE.

    you can shop intelligently/ethically. you cannot CONSUME intelligently or ethically.

    i don’t have a problem with shopping as a verb, if you can buy from locally owned, small biz, and keep the excess to a minimum. i have a problem when people list ‘shopping’ as an ‘interest’ (on fb for instance), and horde/consume in excess.

  4. Jin The Ninja November 9, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    I agree that people have a social relationship to the PROCESS of shopping, but ‘consumerism’ as a model lifestyle is INDEFENSIBLE.

    you can shop intelligently/ethically. you cannot CONSUME intelligently or ethically.

    i don’t have a problem with shopping as a verb, if you can buy from locally owned, small biz, and keep the excess to a minimum. i have a problem when people list ‘shopping’ as an ‘interest’ (on fb for instance), and horde/consume in excess.

  5. JaceD November 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    The author for some strange reason puts shopping for food and shopping for the sake of buying new stuff in the same category, which is wrong. Buying fresh veggies and fruit is not the same as spending $100 on a pair of shoes that your friend also owns because you want to be “cool” or “trendy” to your peers, if your peers judge you on your fashion sense then perhaps it’s time to meet real people, not superficial morons who need to keep up with the latest styles rather than take notice of what is important in life and what isn’t.

    And comsuming your daily intake of a 100ml bottle of Coka Cola is not important.

    • Jin The Ninja November 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

      i totally agree Jace, but it is ALWAYS all about the kicks:P

  6. Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    The author for some strange reason puts shopping for food and shopping for the sake of buying new stuff in the same category, which is wrong. Buying fresh veggies and fruit is not the same as spending $100 on a pair of shoes that your friend also owns because you want to be “cool” or “trendy” to your peers, if your peers judge you on your fashion sense then perhaps it’s time to meet real people, not superficial morons who need to keep up with the latest styles rather than take notice of what is important in life and what isn’t.

    And comsuming your daily intake of a 100ml bottle of Coka Cola is not important.

  7. Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    i totally agree Jace, but it is ALWAYS all about the kicks:P

  8. Sirius Fnord November 10, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Maybe addiction is addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, power or consumerism.

    As processing transceivers we may desire puzzles/programs and to run them solve them and gain rewards.

    The trick maybe for the master control to dictate length and variety of the programs, not the other way round.

    Maybe moderation is the key enabling more efficient assessment of program values.

    The more we control our own program intake the better we become at value analysis and the poorer the top 1% become.

    Every brother every sister you are a super computer, take charge of your systems and rewrite reality into one that you aspire to..

  9. Sirius Fnord November 10, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Maybe addiction is addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, power or consumerism.

    As processing transceivers we may desire puzzles/programs and to run them solve them and gain rewards.

    The trick maybe for the master control to dictate length and variety of the programs, not the other way round.

    Maybe moderation is the key enabling more efficient assessment of program values.

    The more we control our own program intake the better we become at value analysis and the poorer the top 1% become.

    Every brother every sister you are a super computer, take charge of your systems and rewrite reality into one that you aspire to..

  10. Ape November 10, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    http://www.selfishcapitalist.com/articles.html

  11. Ape November 10, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    http://www.selfishcapitalist.com/articles.html

  12. the philosophers stone November 10, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Shopping or acquiring a new item is creative power, its seems like there is a different agency behind it but really its all you and your imagination creating the item before the Crystallization of the object, you can better notice the creative process when shopping online browsing looking for the perfect item and them poof it appears. Sometimes objects are created by surprise when  the focused will power is not being utilized, bringing us some joy in a time ov boredom like a jump start . Some things we create repeatedly like foods, others only once  like a wedding ring, and it appears that others have more creative power then you and other individuals when it comes to the material, but its all a preview to show different life styles extreme in wealth in some cases or extreme poverty in others as the universe hopes to inspire the being to become perfect and moderate to achieve perfect balance. At least its what Hakim Bey says in ontological anarchy here is the link to it. http://hermetic.com/bey/ 

  13. the philosophers stone November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Shopping or acquiring a new item is creative power, its seems like there is a different agency behind it but really its all you and your imagination creating the item before the Crystallization of the object, you can better notice the creative process when shopping online browsing looking for the perfect item and them poof it appears. Sometimes objects are created by surprise when  the focused will power is not being utilized, bringing us some joy in a time ov boredom like a jump start . Some things we create repeatedly like foods, others only once  like a wedding ring, and it appears that others have more creative power then you and other individuals when it comes to the material, but its all a preview to show different life styles extreme in wealth in some cases or extreme poverty in others as the universe hopes to inspire the being to become perfect and moderate to achieve perfect balance. At least its what Hakim Bey says in ontological anarchy here is the link to it. http://hermetic.com/bey/ 

  14. Heath November 11, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Or maybe because you don’t have a sweet mullet and just bought the new Journey album at Tape world

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