Consumption and Identity
University of Leicester, UK
The subject of identity concerns the interpretation of our relations with each other and with the world. While each of us might focus first on what it is we want to be or do, or on how we experience things or what we have in terms of personal possessions, the topic of identity revolves around ways in which significant others settle questions about who we are. Where we hang out, with whom we affiliate, what we do, and what we buy are all grist to the mill of “placing” one another as this or as that.
Historically the topic was oriented toward notions of unity and belonging. In seeking to tie collectivities (or groups) to place, identity covers the widest possible range of membership possibilities, from warring nationalities to rival neighborhood gangs and from union member to a regular of a local club or bar. However, more modern meanings treat patterns of consumption as displays of belonging and so extend identity toward how we are “figured” by others in our day-to-day conduct. Hence we can be seen by others as the same as them, or as different. Or, in terms of typifications at work, we are read as someone who get things done, or as someone out for themselves.
Much of this kind of figuring or placing of people is no longer just a matter of place, but more what the sociologist Erving Goffman calls face. Hence identity not only reflects how we arrive marked by ability, gender, age, ...