Consumption Creates New Social Divisions

Banyan claims that consumption has created new social divisions, the seduced and the repressed. He believes we live in a society that relies on the ability to express one’s status in the form of material goods and services, but the possibility that one has to access these is exactly what separates the two groups. Banyan refers to the seduced as those who, because of their financial and social circumstances, are more able to consume effectively, for example those with more disposable income. In recently collected data y the ONES we can see that an average household spends more on re-creation and luxuries than it does on essentials (Source: ONES, 2008), (Withering, 2009, p. 24).

This shows that people are interested in shopping for luxury and therefore seduced into the trappings of a consumer lifestyle that, as Banyan states, creates belonging, acceptance and membership within society. But what about those excluded from these consumer services? Banyan defines the repressed as those who cannot participate in the everyday fripperies of the socially seduced. The unemployed and low-paid miss out simply by not having the financial sources to participate but there are also those who cannot participate due to mobility difficulties. This causes them to become physically excluded, a problem, which has arisen due to the lack of transport to the new retail outlets where the epitome of the seduction process takes place.

Another group that is segregated are those with little or no access to a computer for example older people, those with mental illness or again those with little or no disposable income to spend on new technology. This group becomes socially excluded especially in this day and age here the Internet is one of consumer societies’ most powerful weapons. As a whole the repressed become the ‘poor’ of the late industrial society, described as inadequate consumers, which leads to ‘social degradation’ or ‘internal exile’ (Banyan, cited in Best, 2005, p. 72). Although Banyan’s concept seems quite adept at describing current society one could argue that it is not complex enough.

His groups describe two simplified aspects of a divided society, who is to say we cannot fluctuate between them? Those who found themselves in the pre-recession years may have been in a better position to there to the seduced part of society, a few years later they may have found themselves leaning towards the repressed as the credit crunch took hold, “l think what we will see sort of subsequently is some shift back to a more unequal situation, perhaps, where fewer people could gain easy access to credit in the way that they had done over the last ten years. ” (Audio-visual, Reflections on ‘Material Lives’, The Open University 2009). Banyan also forgets others such as environmentalist who may choose to not participate.

So far this essay has touched on a division caused by hooch of what to consume based on our expression and self-identity but what about the divisions caused by the retail institutions themselves? A division is also caused by major retail stores and supermarkets, provoked by the immense power they have in influencing not Just what we buy, but also where. The high street has gone through some dramatic changes over the last few years; there has been a decline in customers therefore resulting in a decline in profit. A study carried out by geographer Peter Jackson Jackson, 1998) in North London provided results explaining one of the possible reasons behind this.

People in North London were asked to describe the experience of both retail parks and their typical high street. The new retail parks were seen as convenient, clean, safe, and regulated areas whereas the high street was described as disordered, dirty and unsafe. In other words the department stores were viewed in a positive manner in contrast to the high street where it seems the repressed are confined. The lessening diversity of places to shop is also caused by the large supermarket chains. As our choice of product is expanding our choice of where to consume seems o be slowly diminishing. For example, the four big chains Tests, Sunburst’s, Sad and Morrison clash in the fight to gain control over the grocery market.

Some may argue that their firm grip on the consumer market has encouraged the decline of independent retailers and smaller chains and that, through their immense buying and market power, they have been able to control the consumer sector and are now seen by some, as those who dictate a large part of production and sales. Certain members of the public have even grouped together to create a coalition against the arrest power of major I-J supermarkets, calling themselves the Testicles Alliance. Their point of view is what sociologist Dennis Wrong defines as the zero-sum game. Technically speaking his definition is a mathematical representation of a participant’s gain or loss in a situation.

In this case the supermarket giants come out on top and the independent retailers struggle to survive. Nonetheless not everyone agrees that this power struggle is a simple zero-sum economy. Some choose to describe it as a win-win game theory, in fact the pro- supermarket lobby insists they do not abuse their power but that they use it as a Orca for good, distributing wealth and gain in various areas, not only in the I-J. Those who believe in this positive-sum game, claim that all parties involved benefit from this use of power. For example, the consumer gains from having a larger choice of product and the local economy gains from the regeneration of the area.

Even local migrant workers and the workers abroad can gain; even though they are low-paid, ‘bad Jobs are better than no Jobs’ Cohn Allen, 2009, p. 90). All the concepts and evidence we have explored provide different points of view. There is also an interesting aspect of irony that can be found such as the individuality that the seduced designate themselves with, is overcome by the homogeneity of the products on offer. One could look back to Boride’s theory of consumer formation where he claims that our choice is imposed and regulated, often by ourselves. On the other hand there are some similarities that follow on from who had power over production in a position to control and impose over those who didn’t (supermarket domination).