ALLISON J. PUGH and CANDACE N. MILLER
University of Virginia, USA
“Flawed consumers” is a term coined by the theorist Zygmunt Bauman to signify prevailing social discourse about poor consumers, or those who, by virtue of their limited means, cannot participate fully in the consumer culture of the contemporary West. While not in extensive usage, the term captures what other scholars have also set out to do: portray and explain how low-income people are pathologized and marginalized as consumer society expands.
Bauman developed this concept in his monograph Work, Consumerism, and the New Poor (1998). In earlier production economies, social acceptance and status rested upon participation and success in the labor force, and the poor were marginalized by claims that they lacked a work ethic. Under this rubric, however, the poor were still nominally useful as a reserve labor resource. But in the elaborated consumer economies of the late twentieth century, the level of production became less dependent on a large labor force in the developed world. Unable to participate fully in contests of consumption with standards set by others far away from poor communities, the poor were now castigated as flawed consumers, with neither social position nor, given the fixity of their predicament, even redeeming potential as some sort of reserve army of consumers-to-be. Bauman argued that social prestige came to be conferred upon the rich, not merely ...