Consumption – A Route to Acquisition of a Desired Social Identity

Aug 25, 2011 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Non-Fiction

In view of the contemporary world, we live in an environment saturated with symbolism where the meanings attached to any situation or objects are determined by the interpretations of the prevalent symbols. The symbols referred to are basically what ‘we’ as the participants of our society depict through our acts and symbols that are interpreted based on perceived signals. Every individual tends to play a role that contributes to the formation of societal norms and values. One of the very commonly committed act towards which everyone is submissively drawn is the act of ‘consumption’. We tend to ignore the massive impact that consumption implies on our daily lives and the way it drives the transformational process of our society.

‘Possessions allow the manifestation of people’s extended self, constitute in the construction of personal identity and facilitate the creation of a particular culture of consumption’ (Belk 1998, cited in Perez et al.).

Consumption  is  a  construct shaped in accordance with social,  cultural, political  and  economic  process  of  choosing  products  and services. This process reflects the opportunities and constraints of modernity depiction by consumers through acquisition of a desired social identity via patterns of consumption.  Pakistan is a country comprising of engraved prevalent trends of social, religious and ethnic customs and traditions. These traditions give birth to an exclusive culture termed as ‘Pakistani culture’. There was a time when there was increased fragmentation in the practiced and adopted culture with in Pakistan. However, that has notably merged with the modernity ridden changes in our culture due to the emerging standardization of the thinking patterns of the Pakistani youth. Part  of  public  culture  is  shaped  by  goods and  services consumed,  advertisements  that  promote  their  use,  and  places, from  shopping  malls  and websites  to fitness  centres  and tailored events, where  they  are  displayed,  viewed,  and  bought.

Consumers use brands in their identity construction processes as well as in interactions with other people to communicate who they are. Brand meanings and images operate in two directions, Firstly, inwards in constructing a self-identity or self-concept (i.e. how an individual perceives himself/herself to be) and secondly, outwards in constructing the desired social image of an individual projected to the external entities with in a society through social symbolism. Since identity is rooted in perception, it strongly relates to our perception of self when we construct and re-construct our identity through consumption. In other words, we employ consumption, not only to create and sustain the self but also to locate ‘us’ in the society. Subcultures of Consumption emerge based on the consistent and brand-loyalty driven conspicious consumption by the society members. These subcultures give birth to the stereotypes that prevail with in the society and continue to alter the societal definitions of status, class and boundaries of sophistication. ‘Apple’ (Iphones & Ipods)  forms to be an excellent example of how consumers of a brand automatically are perceived in our society as classy, status conscious and privileged.

Marketing is culturally a very influential phenomenon and plays a significant role in driving consumption. It forms and reforms culture consistently through a set of mediums used for communicating the ‘look’ a product is likely to provide to its consumers. ‘Brands [marketed] can be classified as ‘citizen-artists’ that help consumers cultivate their identity’ (Holt, 2002). Brands have become so powerful and significant that they encapsulate myths that direct and lead culture and have hence become iconic through infiltrating a kind of ‘Commodity fetish’ within our minds.

We belong to a collectivist society. The ideology of “collectivism” suggests that an individual’s need to form groups is essentially encouraged, based on inter-connectedness, communal submissiveness and social dependancy. In our journey to seek that mutual connectivity, we tend to indulge into the standardized patterns of consumption to prove ourselves to the society and strive to reach that point of being classified as the privileged lot. Status consumption is what we confine ourselves to, through increased consumption of products that signify status for both, the individual and other society members.

What is there to contemplate for us in terms of brands and how they shape consumer identity? This question leads us to the multi-dimensional quest of where we stand in terms of practicing our original culture. Have we lost ourselves in the course of seeking the identities offered through consumption or are we still fighting back to preserve and protect our cultural roots? It is rather imperative for us to ensure that we don’t drift away from the rich and beautifully structured cultural norms and values that our ancestral heritage has gifted us with. Pakistani society deserves to lead rather than being lead, however, this can only be achieved when we stop disowning our norms and stop adapting practices that do not comply with what our religious and societal implications have to offer. This does not in any way assert the fact that we shall stop adapting and advancing towards the scientific, technical and political progression. It is for us to choose from the offered lot as to what we wish to adapt to give our actions a meaning and what to forego for the betterment of our projected identity. It’s essential for every individual to take ownership of the collectivist society and consider themselves as ambassadors of Pakistan. Nation branding is a concept infiltrated through the foreign minds by the basic conduct that every Pakistani projects when in contact with external forces. It is ‘us’ who design our identity rather than others ‘assigning’ us with one. We lost chances to shape our image because we lack the drive to take ownership of our traditions. Hence, the worldwide rejection and manipulations of our identity is what we are subjected to. ‘Think Global, act local’- very well explains the phenomena based on which global adaptations shall be treated. It’s called progress when a useful adaptation is used at its maximum capacity altered in accordance with the environmental needs, but it’s considered a regression when an adaptation is not integrated with the cultural, social, economic, political and demographic needs of a country. It’s about time; we start making the right choices in the right time for the right reasons, keeping aside our self-interests.

References:

Holt, D.B. 2002. Why Do Brands Cause Trouble? A Dialectical Theory of Consumer

Culture and Branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 70-90.

Perez et al., 1998. ‘Constructing identity through the consumption of counterfeit luxury goods’-Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal.

The Author

is a student at Leicester University.

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3 Comments + Add Comment

  • Amazing how you’ve depicted the greater agenda behind the buying trends that our nation follows.=D Loved it

  • Salaams Sidrah. Eid Mubarak and thanks for sending along your article. While I think you raise important points, I think putting it within the context of greater economic patterns of consumption and production will be a fruitful endeavor. Questions of identity are becoming increasingly prevalent as the previously fixed categories are dissipating and becoming rather nebulous. But in this sense, cohesive articulations of identity are not merely a matter of a monolithic national identity, but also production. I think Marx’s philosophy of dialectic materialism will strengthen your argument here. As he argues, since the production of goods is inextricably tied to the social enterprise that we live in, historical change can only come about when we change our material conditions. Following his argument, material conditions are therefore not so much to do with consumption patterns, but rather with production. Inquiring into how industrial revolution changed our means of production and ab intra affected patterns of consumption, I think, will be a good next step to take.

  • Sidra, you have presented a coherent argument and left nothing ‘nebulous’. I disagree with the thrust of Umm Yahya Sohaira Siddiqui’s response wherein she argues that historical change can only come about when we change our material conditions. A superficial examination of history bereft of scriptural insight would lead a hasty neophyte researcher to conclude thus, and erroneously so.

    There is no need to delve into Marxist philosophy to colour your understanding of the disintegration of barriers demarcating social identity or class. Nor is there need to factor in production and its ties to social enterprise for the purposes of your article. The science of economics has bearing where it has bearing.

    Social identities and indeed identity itself is a mystery to those who grow up straddling two or more cultures not knowing where they belong. They absorb the worst of each culture and hasten to false judgement. They might even produce temporary goths and insecure metrosexuals who care more about hiding assets from imported wives and the stroking of their egos sans religiousity. Lo and behold identity is then rabidly (and fruitlessly) sought in the mystical and more.

    Sidra, I commend you and YC for publishing this article.

Keep the discussions clean and productive.

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