Bachelor thesis freedom in consumerism


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The present assignment seeks to analyze and discuss the practice of simplifying one's life style, combining an investigation of the social role of consumerism in contemporary western society and an analysis of the actual process of downshifting seen from the perspective of the individual.

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Bachelor thesis freedom in consumerism

  1. 1. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 1 Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................ 2 Introduction...................................................................................................................... 2 Methodology (Nikoline).................................................................................................... 6 The Case - The Voluntary Simple Living Movement (Leon).............................................. 8 Theoretical Background (Leon) ...................................................................................... 11 The History of Consumerism ...................................................................................... 11 The Society of Consumers .......................................................................................... 12 The Society of Consumers as a Field .......................................................................... 15 Analysis (Nikoline) .......................................................................................................... 18 Alienation of Identity.................................................................................................. 19 Item-bound Imagoes .................................................................................................. 22 Retelling the Story ...................................................................................................... 25 Discussion ....................................................................................................................... 27 The “Social” Freedom (Leon)...................................................................................... 27 The “Personal” Freedom (Nikoline)............................................................................ 30 Dispossession out of Place (Leon) .............................................................................. 34 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................... 35 Suggestions for further investigation......................................................................... 37 Bibliography.................................................................................................................... 38
  2. 2. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 2 Abstract Denne opgave søger at forstå fænomenet omkring ”The Voluntary Simplicity Movement”. Dette er en voksende bevægelse af forbrugere, som vælger at simplificere deres liv ved at nedsætte deres deltagelse i forbrugersamfundet drastisk. Disse forbrugere oplever paradoksalt nok, at de ved at begrænse deres forbrugerfrihed opnår en følelse af frihed. Opgaven søger gennem analyse og diskussion at belyse, hvordan dette paradoks kan forstås antropologisk. Som teoretisk baggrund for opgaven, tages der udgangspunkt i Zygmunt Baumans deskriptive teorier om forbrugets sociale rolle i det amerikanske/vestlige samfund. Baumans observationer diskuteres i relation til Pierre Bourdieu’s generative strukturalisme med henblik på at skabe et analyseapparat, som kan belyse individets oplevelse af forbrugersamfundet. Endvidere analyseres simplificeringsprocessen ud fra et aktørperspektiv med det formål at forstå, hvordan materiel oprydning opleves af forbrugerne som et stærkt værktøj til at genforhandle aspekter af identitet. Der argumenteres for at en distinktion mellem en ’socialt’ oplevet frihed og en ’individuelt’ oplevet frihed er relevant for at forstå informanternes genforhandling af identitet igennem processen, og mødet mellem deres nye livsorientering og omverdenen. Da de møder en modstand mellem både deres egne indlejrede dispositioner og pres fra omverdenen i form af sociale relationer opstår der en konflikt. Vi belyser denne konflikt ved hjælp af Mary Douglas’ teori om ’matter out of place’ med argumentationen om at vore informanters positionering i forbrugersamfundet gør, at de falder uden for den normale kategorisering og derved befinder sig i en gråzone mellem det, Bauman kalder underklassen og en succesfuld forbruger. De bliver derfor fremmedgjorte i forhold til samfundet og kan opfattes som tabuiserede.
  3. 3. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 3 Introduction The present assignment seeks to analyze and discuss the practice of simplifying one's life style, combining an investigation of the social role of consumerism in contemporary western society and an analysis of the actual process of downshifting seen from the perspective of the individual. In 1995, the Trends Research Institute of Rhinebeck, NY declared simplifying life as “one of the top trends of the nineties” (Cherrier 2007:3). The notion of simplicity in this context practically means conveying to a simpler life style by de-cluttering, downshift by minimizing their consumption, moving to smaller houses and working less hours. In the process of downshifting, many of the downshifters choose to find support and guide lines in therapeutically books and organized challenges. Among others (333 project1 , 365 things less2 , 100 things reverse3 … ), the 100 thing challenge is an example of concrete guide lines of how to simplify your life. The challenge implies only owning 100 objects or less for a year. Our anthropological curiosity was first aroused with a TED-talk about the subject, by Dave Bruno, the inventor of “the 100 thing challenge”. In the TED-talk he says: "Given the circumstances of our times, simplicity is the actionable idea that will meet the challenges of our lives and our world. Here is why: Since the dawn of the modern era, individual affluence and national economies has increasingly relied on excess as proof for success. We have created and propagated life styles and economies that only allegedly thrive when we extract too much. […] Everywhere we look we have stuff, and yet people still feel anxious, many economies are on the brink. […] What can we do about this; you and I? - Simplicity is action."4 1 'The 333 project', entered the 11th of December 2012 at 4pm, 2 '365 things less', accessed the 11th of December 2012 at 4pm, 3 '100 Things Reverse', accessed the 11th of December at 4pm, reverse-100-thing-challenge/ 4 'Youtube', accessed on the 10th of December 2012,
  4. 4. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 4 A study conducted by Juliet Schor showed that American families usually compare themselves with a group owning 4-5 times more than themselves (Schor 1998:4). Half the families said they could not afford everything they really needed. She calls the phenomenon upscale spending, referring to the fact that: “what we want grows into what we need, at a sometimes dizzying rate” (ibid:6). Since then, with discussions about financial, resource and climate crisis the topic of consumption has not become less relevant. What we find interesting about the case of voluntary downshifting is the fact that the participants do not seek to resign from consumer society (as some other movements). They do not reject consumption as such, but wish to ”break” with what is experienced as dependency on stuff within the consumer society. In the present assignment we would like to investigate what activates the individual to decide to simplify, and which consequences (good or bad) they experience by choosing this life style? We argue that a theoretical discussion about freedom is essential to understand what is on stake for these people. As the activity of shopping usually is linked with exactly the experience of freedom and happiness, we find it interesting to investigate what the difference is between the freedom found in shopping, and the freedom the downshifters paradoxically find through constraining this freedom. To clarify what this paradox entails, we provide an anthropological analysis of the social meaning of freedom understood within the cultural context of the western/American consumer society. Through a discussion on the topic we seek to clarify two questions: 1. What is the meaning of freedom for the consumer in the society of consumers? 2. What is the meaning of freedom for the simple livers we have investigated? These two questions leads to our main question in relation to the participants in the Simplicity Movement: What are the consequences of living simply within the consumerist society and how can we understand that from an anthropological point of view?
  5. 5. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 5 As the theoretical background for investigating these questions, we use Zygmunt Bauman as the descriptive frame of the consumer society. Bauman also offers some possible answers on freedom as a social matter in which the informants’ experience of dispossession can be investigated and discussed. To make a useful theoretical frame from Bauman’s more descriptive observations, we incorporate Pierre Bourdieu and his theory of generative structuralism. This allows us to analyze the individual in the context of the consumer society as a field. By doing this we are able to outline the rules in the field, thus understanding how the social order is reproduced through certain behavior. By choosing to simplify their life style, we suggest that the informants simultaneously re-evaluate the rules and the influence these have in their particular life situation. What this theoretical frame work cannot clarify are the reasons for the participants to choose to simplify their lives in the first place, and how the consequences of doing so are experienced by the individual. Therefore we will use the more existentialistic theoretical framework of “imagoes”, as presented by Dan P. McAdams to investigate the participants’ experience of identity-negotiation through the dispossession. We suggest that imagoes (self-images) can be linked to items and therefore takes part in the participants’ identity creation linked to past memories, potential future scenarios and social desirable appearance. Through dispossession the participant not only sort materials, but re-evaluate these self-images seeking to define who they want to be. We argue that this sorting of self-images through dispossession leads to an experience of spaciousness and emptiness as a result of the reduction from an overwhelming amount of self-images assembled over time to few actively chosen self-images. The process of dispossession thus becomes a powerful tool for the informants to re- evaluate one’s life situation. We will argue that the simple livers are matter out of place in relation to the society of consumers since they have the capitals necessary for being successful but actively chooses not to use them. This places them in between being a successful and a failed consumer - thereby in a grey-zone that makes them a danger to the reproduction of the society of consumers; indirectly questioning the assumptions power of the field.
  6. 6. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 6 In the following section we will present the theoretical frame used in the assignment. The strengths and limitations of our choices taken in this matter will be presented and evaluated. Subsequently, the Voluntary Simplicity Movement will be presented, outlining the drivers for its participants. Then, the theoretical frame work of respectively Bauman and Bourdieu will be outlined in an exposition and theoretical analysis. Methodology In the present assignment there are several things to be taken into account. We have had to do an extensive research as there is close to nothing written about freedom and consumption in the field of anthropology. We have therefore set up a theoretical frame for discussing Zygmunt Bauman’s definition of freedom as a social driver for societal management against the freedom of existential clarification of identity experienced by individuals seeking a simpler life through dispossession practices. We are aware that presenting theories on societal level and linking them to existential, personal experience is an ambitious project, hardly possible to adequately outline in the scope of this assignment. Nonetheless, the span between the two constitutes pronounced anthropological considerations we find very rewarding for a further discussion on the topic. Treating the topic of freedom in the context of anthropology furthermore raises some important questions. Few anthropologists have developed theoretical work on the subject, and the interest for further theoretical development has been scarce. This, despite Boas and Malinowski being among the main contributors. In the present asignment, we have chosen to mainly focus on Bauman's notion of freedom in relation to consumer society. Taking point of departure in Boas' defintion of freedom we discuss and criticize these observations seeking to understand the feeling of freedom experienced by the informants. The notion of freedom will thus be investigated as a social experience rather than a metaphysical quality.
  7. 7. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 7 To set up a social context for consumerism we have used Zygmunt Bauman's extensive studies of the subject and decided to use him as the anchor of our assignment. In a critical study of Bauman, Michael Hviid Jacobsen (2008) notes that he " truly a generalist rather than a specialist sociologist", since he has never made a specific theory and rather been occupied with describing the consequences of the transformation from modernity to liquid modernity (ibid:3). Using Bauman allows us to understand consumerism in a social context of society seen from a wide range of theoretical considerations. We are aware that Bauman’s notion of the consumerist society is very structuralistic. On the level of individuals the options for choosing one’s own life style is limited within the pattern of consumerism, where the possibility for changing habits are more or less non-existent (Bauman 2007). Nonetheless, using Bauman is a good starting point for investigating the context of what our informants feel they are facing when trying to change their behavior: the chance of exclusion from society, fear and existential crisis. To make a useful theoretical frame from Bauman’s “general” observations, we choose to incorporate the theory of Pierre Bourdieu and his actor-focused theories in regard to generative structuralism. To qualify the discussion of what the social meaning of freedom encompasses for the individuals voluntarily choosing the simple living, we analyze the process of dispossession seen from the perspective of the individual. As this process of dispossession has shown to encompass several conflicts within the social life and identity construction of the individual, we choose to use the notion of imago as it is presented by Dan P. McAdams. This allows us to understand why dispossession becomes more than physical de-cluttering to the informants, encompassing a wider existential clarification of the individual’s identity and values. We have decided to base our empirical data mainly on already conducted surveys. In order to get a macro overview of the Voluntary Simplicity Movement internationally (with focus on Western individuals who have actively chosen to change their habits) we use an article by Alexander and Ussher (2012). Furthermore we use two qualitative studies carried out by Helene Cherrier in 2007 and 2009. In total 22 informants were
  8. 8. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 8 interviewed 2-3 hours about their voluntary process of downshifting (Cherrier 2007:5; Cherrier 2009:330). Additionally, quotes from Mary Grigsby’s book “Buying time and getting by” as well as parts of Dave Bruno’s book “The 100 Thing Challenge” will be used. Also blogs written by voluntary downshifters are part of the analysis to back up the findings in the already mentioned studies. We are aware that the field we investigate is hard to frame but due to the scope of the paper and the theoretical focus in our discussion we find that our material has the necessary quality. The Case - The Voluntary Simple Living Movement The Voluntary Simplicity Movement5 is defined as: "...a diverse social movement made up of people who are resisting high consumption lifestyles and who are seeking, in various ways, a lower consumption but higher quality of life alternative" (Alexander & Ussher 2012:66). We have chosen to use Alexander and Ussher's investigation of the Simplicity Movement as their extensive studies offer a global overview and understanding of the movement in relation to the current events in the world. They offer an overview of the drivers the individuals have for joining the simplicity movement. It has to be noted that their project, as directors of the Simplicity Institute, is to promote the simple living model as the future mainstream model for achieving a more sustainable world (ibid:67). The movement emerged in the eighties and nineties when gradually more individuals decided to change their patterns of consumption. The movement consist of great diversity of people situated world-wide and with different ages. According to Alexander and Ussher, a certain perception of human impact on the overall condition of the world termed ‘the ecological overshoot’, is seen as a main driver for the movement. The 'ecological overshoot' is a term for the impact humans 5 From now on referred to as the Simplicity Movement.
  9. 9. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 9 have on the ecological balance on the planet and climate. Even though this concern has entered the attention of international leaders and governments, the initiatives are simply seen as not being enough for 'saving' the planet. There is a feeling that even more needs to be done; especially in relation to consumer patterns (ibid:68). They furthermore mention the problems concerning poverty in 3rd world countries as opposed to the plenty in 1st world countries. By owning less the individual takes a stand and seeks to justify their own lives seen in this wide context of global concerns (ibid:68-70). The last and perhaps most important reason to live a more simple life is according to the authors that a high level of consumption is not necessarily making people more happy or content: "Finally, what makes the problems outlined above all the more troubling is the fact that high consumption lifestyles, so often held up as the peak of human development, are in many cases engendering an unexpected discontent or malaise among those who live them." (ibid). There is a feeling of inconsistency between the experience of pressure for consumption in society against the values in personal life. By choosing to simplify one's life, the individual experiences a sense of agency. These are the different reasons for people to engage in the Simplicity Movement. Some are doing it because of macro scale issues, some are doing it due to micro-scale issues and others again are doing it in order to attain a more meaningful life. Alexander and Ussher conducted an online survey among 2131 ‘normal consumers’ from different countries in the 'first world', actively choosing to live a simple life. The participants were primarily based in North America (970), Australia (871) and the rest were from Europe and Japan. The majority of respondents lived in urban cities and therefore practiced simplicity within a 'normal setting' and not far from 'civilization'. Findings are as follows:
  10. 10. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 10 "... 28 percent of participants lived in large cities (over 500,001 people); 18 percent lived in medium-sized cities (between 100,000 and 500,000 people); 16 percent lived in small cities (between 15,001 and 99,999 people); 17 percent lived in small towns (under 15,000 people); and 21 percent lived rurally (i.e. non-urban or farm)" (ibid:73). Figure 1 Percentage of participants listing specific motivations for living simply (ibid:76) In the survey, the participants were allowed to pick several reasons for choosing a simple life style. These reasons are listed above and shows that 80% picked the environmental concern as the main driver, while the second (to be healthier), third (self-sufficiency), fourth (de-cluttering life) and fifth (to save money) are individual drivers. The movement thus seems to consist of people who find personal possibilities in living more simple while still having a relation to the global aspects of the consumer society. In the section above we have outlined the main drivers for the individuals choosing to simplify their lives. In this context it is important noting that the movement consist of
  11. 11. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 11 individual initiatives to carry out the downshifting in own lives and is thus 'loose' in its collective structure. The simple livers find support and guidance within the frame of the movement but do not seek to oppose the practice on others. Rather, they wish to spread the practice by example. As a concluding remark, it is worth noting that the Simplicity Movement not see themselves as anti-consumers but rather as less- consumers. In the following section we will propose a theoretical frame for the further analysis and discussion on the social maening of freedom. With point of departure in Bauman's description of consumerism in contemporary western society, we will, through a theoretical analysis, incorporate Bourdieu's theory within this context. Theoretical Background In order to understand the background of the Simplicity Movement we need to understand what it tries to give a new perspective on; contemporary consumption. In this section we will therefore outline the theoretical framework for our investigation, based on the studies of Zygmunt Bauman on the notion of the society of consumers6 . The History of Consumerism Consumption (production, storage, distribution and disposal of objects) has all through history been at the core of human existence. The reciprocal nature of production and consumption has created the foundation for society where people barter and exchange products, thereby creating a sense of identity as groups or individuals. The pattern of consumption has not changed much, but one aspect that deserves attention is how the distance between producer and consumer has been ever growing (ibid:25- 26). According to Bauman this space between consumer and producer is where "...history could be written in the terms of the ingenious ways in which that space was colonized and administered" (ibid:26). Bauman explains contemporary consumerist practices as being opposed to those of the Industrial/Modern Era's. He makes a distinction between the solid state modern 6 We will from now on only relate our analysis to the society of consumers.
  12. 12. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 12 era (society of producers) and the liquid modern era (society of consumers). He outlines a clear distinction and almost dichotomy between these two, making an understanding of the solid modernity necessary for understanding the liquid modernity. Shortly, he describes how we have moved away from a stable society focused on long term perspectives in our consumption to a society where the immediate fulfillment of our desires and thereby short-term perspectives are being adhered. The Society of Consumers By the modern era of the solid state society, Bauman focus on the creation of a sense of stability in an unstable world. He defines it as follows: "The appropriation and possession of goods ensuring (or at least promising to ensure) comfort and esteem might indeed have been the principal motive behind human wishes and longings in the society of producers, a kind of society, committed to the cause of stable security and secure stability, relying for its own long-term reproduction on patterns of individual behavior designed to follow those motives" (ibid:29). Due to the long-term perspective on fulfilling needs, the society of producers were focused on the individual consumption. You would buy for security and durability in order to create a sense of continuity and safety for yourself and thereby portraying yourself as worthy of trust and credit (ibid:30). Our contemporary society of consumers is according to Bauman, in some ways a direct opposite of the society of producers. Instead of relying on a future aspect of rationality and long-term stability, it is focused on the immediate fulfillment of desires. It has thus changed the patterns of the 'steady' state into something that is unsteady, focusing on an ever rising volume of, and intensity of desires as opposed to a gratification of basic needs - from normal consumption into consumerism (ibid:31). This transformation is called the consumerist revolution and entails a phase where consumption changed character as it became central in the lives of most people thus becoming a social phenomenon. Consumerism is not based on the individual needs as
  13. 13. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 13 in the solid modern era but created on a macro level detached from the individual. The society of consumers sets parameters of 'right conduct' for the good life, thereby creating an experience of human togetherness (ibid:26-28). As economical growth is determined by the amount of produced and sold goods, the need for intensifying the speed of consumerism emerges. In the society of producers the focus in consumption was on the long-term expectations to the product and thereby also an aspect of postponing one's immediate needs. In the society of consumers on the contrary, each promise of satisfaction when acquiring a product must be deceitful or at least exaggerated in order to keep the circulation of needs in motion and thereby tempt the consumer to keep on buying additional things (ibid:46- 47). As Bauman puts it: "The realm of hypocrisy stretching between popular beliefs and the realities of consumer's lives is a necessary condition of a properly functioning society of consumers" (ibid:47) The biggest change compared to former patterns of consumption is according to Bauman that people themselves becomes commodities to be promoted and sold. He terms the situation as the saleability of the consumer and defines the strategy of the individual as: "…obtaining qualities for which there is already a market demand, or recycling the qualities already possessed into commodities for which demand can go on to be created" (ibid:56) This commoditization of the consumer thereby creates a society that has a character of totality, creating the life goal of the individual to make oneself a valuable commodity. By obtaining the wished job the individual gains the wished economical situation, which creates access to the market and the material commodities that again can be used to build social status (ibid:57). What then if a member of society cannot or do not want to participate in this process of commoditization? According to Bauman these people are 'condemned' to the underclass. They are seen as failed consumers as they are not contributing to the
  14. 14. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 14 society and furthermore not able to reproduce the wanted behavior, acquiring commodities and are thereby unable to commoditize themselves (ibid:124-125). In Bauman's terms these people are victimized and is treated as people to be avoided. He writes: "Everyone else in the society of consumers would gain if they [flawed consumers] vanished. Think: everyone else will gain when you fall out of the consumer game and your turn to vanish has arrived..." (ibid:124) Bauman lists the people in the group of 'excluded members' as a mix of welfare single mothers, criminals, alcoholics, illegal immigrants etc. They are 'loners' without the resources to engage in social relations (except the close family and dubious other outcasts) and do not have a collective identity with the other underclass members (ibid:123). Therefore, if not consuming, one is automatically excluding oneself from society and the chance of creating social status. In other words, the society of consumers creates a reproduction circle of commoditization, in which: "...little if any dissent, resistance or rebellion [arouses], thanks to the expedient of representing the new obligation (the obligation to choose) as freedom of choice." (ibid:74) We have now defined Bauman's notion of the society of consumers, and the social implications Bauman finds in this societal construction. It has also become clear that Bauman's view on society is very structuralistic. The fundamental rules of society of consumers are impossible to escape without being excluded as failed consumers. These aspects will be treated and discussed further in the discussion. In the following, Pierre Bourdieu will be presented, seeking to create a theoretical frame work in which the experience of de-cluttering can be analyzed. By doing this, the perspective of the individual's agency is provided, from which Bauman's observations can be further explored and discussed.
  15. 15. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 15 The Society of Consumers as a Field A field is, in Bourdieu's terminology, a social space with its own rules, truths and legitimate actions. Fields are more or less autonomous compared to the wider social structure and has an implicit and explicit set of rules that defines how people can behave and struggle for power and identity (Bourdieu 1994:53). We will use Bauman's descriptions of the society of consumers to define the field. The social rules of the field of contemporary consumption is relating to a strategy of consuming in order to develop your identity both social and individual. The rules of the field is that the actor have to be an active consumer acquiring commodities of prestige and commoditizing himself to become an attractive asset or product in relation to job offers and social relations (Bauman 2007:57). In the field of consumerism there is no possibility of not participating in consumerist conduct since you will be excluded from social relation and 'victimized' in Bauman's terms. Furthermore the sole possibility of attaining power in the field of consumerism is through your consumption. Habitus is the social reality that we live in. This reality is constructed by the relation between the structures of society in the material world as well as the interpretation of the agents inhabiting the field. It is a system of dispositions (lasting, acquired schemes of perception, thought and action) that is consisting of the continuous mediation between the societal rules of the field and the individual's experience of the same. With constructing the term habitus, Bourdieu gives a space for explaining the change of rules in a field so as to say that the development of a certain practice is not only determined by society (Bourdieu 1974:86) . In the field there is an ongoing symbolic struggle of power based on the capitals of the agent . Capital can be understood as Bauman's resources, which should not just be understood as actual money or assets but also as social and cultural resources that is used in the struggle for power in a certain field (Davis 2008:92). There is three different kinds of capital in a field - it can be cultural, social and economic capital. These three spheres of value is what constitutes the possibilities for power and thereby the positioning of the agent. In Bourdieu's theory the cultural capital is the most important since it related to the agents upbringing and thereby the predefined
  16. 16. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 16 starting position based on parents background (class), education quality and internalized values (Bourdieu 1986:243). The social capital is to what extent the agent is able to make a network with other individuals and thereby creating a membership in a group. Economic capital is related to material values - money, assets etc. The capitals are affecting each other in the sense that the agent can convert economic capital to social or cultural capital through for example in the case of consumerism choosing prestigious commodities, buying art objects or having a high social capital through network to get access to a well-paid job. In other instances you cannot. An example is the cultural education. This is something that you have to study intensively or be brought up in a setting that puts value in these issues. (ibid:249). The symbolic struggle with the use of the different capitals based on the rules of the field is where the actors are positioning themselves in relation to each other. The struggle is about trying to create a commodity of self through a combination of the capitals that are desirable in relation to others and the field. Symbolic capital is the description of the ideal combination of capital in a field and thereby power. The relation between capitals is different from field to field and thereby the also the possibility for gaining power for the agent. An example is in the field of art. In order to understand what pieces are of value you need to have the needed cultural capital to distinguish it from other pieces, as well as the economic capital to for example buy (ibid:243). Habitus is a set of practices that are incorporated into the actor and resulting in a certain behavior that has a routine character. That means that most of the actions conducted by the agent is unconscious and un-reflected - thereby being an implicit truth in the field. The agents actions, when following the rules, is reproducing the implicit truths in the field and thereby legitimizing it. This relates directly to our case with the simplicity movement since the problem with Bauman is that he is mainly describing two possibilities for an individual in the society
  17. 17. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 17 consumers, namely; adhering to the rules of the consumerism or being a failed consumer. This takes us to the perhaps most relevant term in relation to Bourdieu - doxa. Doxa is defined as the situation when there is accordance between habitus and the field. It is a situation where the society is in 'harmony' and actively reproducing a certain set of practices in a fundamental, unquestioned way. The society is perceived as natural and continuously reproducing a certain set of behavior through the activity of the actors present in the field. Since the field that we have described is that of the society of consumers we would argue, based on Bauman, that there is a doxic situation in relation to the way that consumption is articulated. With Bauman's words the society of consumers is, as before mentioned, a society that: "...promotes, encourages or enforce the choice of a consumerist lifestyle and life strategy that dislikes all alternative cultural options; a society in which adapting to the precepts of consumer culture and following the them strictly is, to all practical intents and purposes, the sole unquestionably approved choice; a feasible, and so also a plausible choice - and a condition for membership" (Bauman 2007:53). What happens then when the consumer or agent cannot see himself as playing by the implicit rules in the society of consumers? As mentioned before Bauman does not see this possibility in the society of consumers since there is but two options; either you are in or you are out! We have now shown the societal pressure for reproducing consumerist practices in the society of consumers. This leads to our main question concerning where the freedom is in the choices of the agents. If there is a system that defines the limits of choice by, according to Bauman presenting the obligation of choice as the freedom of choice, how can we then talk about freedom? Freedom is therefore a key concept that must be investigated to achieve a better understanding of Bauman’s societal analysis of liquid modernity. This will be extensively treated in the discussion. Before, an analysis will be provided. In this
  18. 18. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 18 section we will investigate how the dispossession process is experienced from the individual’s perspective. The following section will seek to answer the questions: 1. Why do the informants choose to simplify their life style? 2. How is the process of dispossession experienced by the individual? and 3. Which effect do the informant experience from disposing? Analysis With point of departure in the qualitative study of dispossession conducted by Cherrier we will investigate how the practice of de-cluttering is experienced as existential clarification of identity: "…the process of dispossession is an ongoing journey of identity negotiation […]. [It] shows a struggle to reconcile the past with the present and the envisioned future. It knits together fragments of history and of social and personal experiences into a mixing of identities. This process requires the identification of missing identities, unwanted identities, or aged identities that needed to be replaced or adapted to the new vision of the world." (Cherrier 2007:23) In the following, an analysis of this journey will be provided. Firstly it will be shown that the informants’ experience of materiality as a burden plays a central role in a gradually built up feeling of identity alienation and societal pressure. A “triggering event” starts reflections upon this matter, causing the informants to re-evaluate their life situation and take action through a physical and symbolic de-cluttering of possessions and identity. It is shown that the informant in the process of dispossession is confronted with past and future; desired and undesired selves represented in objects. This enables the informant to clarify which roles these “selves” occupy in one’s current life situation, re-arranging and re-negotiating which are desirable in the future construction of identity.
  19. 19. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 19 Alienation of Identity In the study of Cherrier, it seems that at the core of downshifting lies an experience of conflict between the wish to live in accordance with societal values and creating a fulfilling life: "While several informants reflected on the societal pressure […], most informants mentioned concepts […] such as: ‘‘consumption machine,’’ […] ‘‘waste’’ (Angie), ‘‘fill up the earth with trash’’ and ‘‘land fills’’ (Michelle), ‘‘brainwashing branding’’ (Alison), the ‘‘superficial,’’ ‘‘stuff’’ and ‘‘newness’’ (Andrew), our ‘‘culture’’ (Simon), ‘‘take refuge in the material’’ ‘‘fear of intimacy’’ (Scott), ‘‘advertising’’ (Maria, Lisa, and Alison), ‘‘mainstream’’ (Maria), ‘‘materialism’’ (Dave) and the ‘‘city culture’’ (Alison). Central to each concept is the existence of normative forces suppressing informants’ self-expression and desired identity." (Cherrier 2009:332) The material aspect of society is by the informants articulated in hostile terms, and seen as something superficial and suppressive to self-expression. The “consumption machine” creates “waste”, launch “brainwashing branding”, “fear intimacy” and offers a “refuge in the material”. This refuge is seen as the easy solution to create a functional life style, but as counts for all of the informants they reach a point of acknowledging the limitations of contentment within the consumers pursuing of material goods and the social status and money gained through work (Grigsby 2004:11). On a blog under the title “how crap took over my life – and how I intent to take it back”, Greg describes a moment of re-evaluation concerning the role of materials in his life. When moving to a new house he realized: "I remember driving across Kansas, thinking that there was a lifetime of accumulated possessions in the back of that truck. No doubt each item had some special meaning, but at that moment, it all seemed like useless
  20. 20. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 20 baggage. “I could drive this thing into a lake,” I thought, “and be done with it forever.”7 In line with the interviews conducted by Cherrier, this quote suggests how material possessions can accumulate and become what is experienced as a burden. This burden again is seen as contributing to an alienation of self and confusion or contradiction in the sense of self, building up to a ‘‘not me’’ identity (2009:331). Dave Bruno writes in the foreword of his book: "The 100 thing Challenge, which my book describes, was one of several responses to the unsettled feeling I developed after years of living a life filled with stuff instead of contentment – after arriving at a reasonable version of the American dream and still groping for more, I felt I might be chasing after what was not mine to have, and what I could never get anyway. It occurred to me that I felt less like myself and more like someone I should not be." (Bruno 2012:xiii) To understand this alienation, the theory of Dan P. McAdams might be useful. McAdams understands the identity of the individual as an ongoing narrative, in which social roles represent the characters that drives the story forward (1993:117). These are what he calls “imagoes”. These work as one-dimensional ideal identities the individual seek to realize (ibid:122). As examples of such, McAdams mentions the sophisticated professor, the rough boy from the wrong side of the town, the steady caregiver, the clown and the peacemaker (ibid:123). Within a single story, different and at times contradictory imagoes want to be heard, and thereby may give rise to fundamental identity conflicts in life. For instance the imagoes of a successful and aggressive lawyer and the nurturing caregiver might have problems sharing the same “scene” (ibid:132). As counts for the typical modern man or woman, dealing with many imagoes in everyday life, he presents the metaphor of a “juggler”. They try to be “everything for everybody”, adjusting their role according to “audience” and situation (ibid:126). 7 Grist - a beacon in the smog, acessed on the 6th of December 10 am, 21-stuffed-to-the-gills-how-crap-took-over-my-life-and-how-i-intend/
  21. 21. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 21 These people manage to be good at what Goffman presents as “the presentation of self in everyday life”, and manage to gain admiration from others for seeming “well- rounded and adjusted” (ibid:126). McAdams criticizes Goffman for seeing the individual as only the sum of these performances and therefore fails to articulate the identity which binds them together (Ibid:125). According to McAdams these “jugglers”, or “protean men”, lack a unifying narrative binding together their disparate interests and activities. Therefore, there is no coherence in their life as their self is split into imagoes which are alienated to each other (Ibid:126). At moments of clarity, these conflicts might reveal a different conscious meaning of our identity, where parts that before seemed trivial, suddenly take on a central role in the definition of self (McAdams 1993:12). Such moments of clarity is by Cherrier called a triggering event causing the informants to re-evaluate his or her life situation (2007:14). The triggering event can be any life event such as divorce, the loss of a close person or other changes in life (Cherrier 2009:331). In other cases the trigger event might seem insignificantly small, but either way provokes reflection upon the current life situation. One informant describes her trigger event as follows: "I found an old photo of myself in my room when I was a child, when I had very little possessions, very little things and I was just sitting there and I could remember when that photo was taken how happy I was on that day. I was climbing a tree just before the photo was taken and I had my dogs and I look at that photo and remember, ‘That’s who I am. Someone who doesn’t need lots of things’. I don’t know what had triggered to get to that point where I needed the moment of clarity. . . obviously lots of experience had come before then. (Maria)" (ibid) The triggering event was by the informants used as an orientation-point in the Cherrier’s interviews and was sorting observations in a “before” and “after” category. “Before” was by an informant characterized by being “asleep and not noticing what happened,” and by another as not thinking: “whenever I did blind buying of name brands or whatever, it was just because I wasn’t thinking” (2007:14). The “before” is thus characterized by blind acceptance, which was then interrupted by the “triggering
  22. 22. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 22 event”, causing them to pause and reflect on their current life situation (ibid:15).These reflections were experienced by the informants as displacing trust and reliability of persons and things, receding the certainty of identity and the sense of societal role (ibid:15). Conditions which “before” was part of identity creation is therefore suddenly seen as problematic and meaningless (ibid:16). To de-clutter in this respect is seen as a powerful tool to regain control and ownership: "Clutter makes our mind lose control. An organized and clutter free home gives us a lot more control over the situations and decisions in our life. […] De-cluttering could really change our lives. With the wonderful feeling of freedom and accomplishment […], our minds will be calmer and clearer."8 Not only the physical space, but also other aspects of life seem to be affected by materiality. These are by the informants ascribed a central role in organization of life, making the process of dispossession more than a physical de-cluttering of the house. Dispossession gives back the control over one’s life, and creates “the wonderful feeling of freedom”. De-cluttering has life changing potential. In the following we will look closer into the process of dispossession seeking to understand why this is experienced as such a powerful tool for re-evaluating one’s identity and life situation. Using the presented theory of McAdams we argue that imagoes can be symbolically represented in items. Item-bound Imagoes As a reaction towards the triggering event, the informants create a space of detachment to social ties which used to define them. Cherrier argues that this stage of separation is what creates the distance the individual needs to re-evaluate one’s current life situation: 8 'The Green Minimalist Blog', entered the 6 th of December 1 pm,
  23. 23. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 23 "I needed to have a mental place to put my head up and take stock of the different opportunities, because I wasn’t going to just follow a mainstream path any more. I had to free my space, my mental, emotional and physical space. (Maria) (Cherrier 2009:332) The separation with the “mainstream path” is sought through freeing the “mental, emotional and physical space”. From the described experiences of the informants, it seems that this can be achieved simultaneously through the physical de-cluttering. In order to understand this, we create the term of “item-bound imago”. As we have explained before, imagoes are archetypical patterns for human thought. An individual is not his imagoes. Rather, his identity is a story created through a casting and recasting of imagoes through narrated time (McAdams 1993:124). The imagoes thus personify the patterns of identity, referring to past, present and future; desired and undesired selves (ibid:127). When de-cluttering, the informants are faced with such imagoes when deciding which objects to keep and which not to keep. As a woman writes on her blog: "… as I got rid of more and more stuff, I came to realize how much of who I am is defined by the stuff that I own. Not just to the outside world, but to myself as well. I own original art, so I am an art-lover. I own contemporary furniture, so I am a sophisticated urbanite (or at least I tell myself that!). I have cool garden furniture, so I am ecologically aware."9 The imagoes explicitly mentioned in this quote are “art-lover” and “sophisticated urbanite”. These are desired selves that she incorporates in her identity pattern and furthermore wants to be identified with by the outside world. The imagoes are attached to materiality, and in this case refer to her “original art” and “contemporary furniture”. We therefore suggests, that imagoes besides being thought experiments for identity creation, also might be extended to symbolically incorporating items as well (Belk 1988:139). These we call item-bound imagoes. Besides the item-bound 9 'Ursula Jorch - The Intentional Nomad', entered the 6th of December 11 am,
  24. 24. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 24 imagoes oriented towards the creation of social capital and acceptance (like in the example above), other item-bound imagoes are oriented towards either past or future. The future selves take the role as potential imagoes; as future scenarios of what we hope or fear to become (McAdams 1993:128). An example of two potential imagoes for fear and hope could be a twenty-six-year-old writer’s hope for receiving a Pulitzer-prize in the future in the one hand, but on the other hand fears to end up as unknown, indebted and chronically frustrated. For the understanding of how potential imagoes can be bound to items, the following quote is illustrative: "You could say that the hardest thing for me to give up was the idea of being a master artisan. But since being an artisan isn’t a “thing”, I’ll confess that it was my woodworking tools, which I hoped would get me to the level of master artisan, that were hardest for me to part with. (Bruno 2010:75) In this quote the potential imago is the “master artisan”, while the item-bound imago is the woodworking tools. The woodworking tools were a symbol of the skills which he hoped to realize in the future. By either keeping or disposing the woodworking tools he confronts a potential imago of being a master artisan in the future. When he decided to dispose them, he also disposed a potential imago. By confronting potential imagoes like this, a clearer idea of direction and value for the future emerges. In the same way it seems that items representing the past can confuse the informant’s experience of agency and direction. A woman writes on her blog: "We don’t start out being defined by our stuff. Most of us buy stuff that is in alignment with who we are, and so our stuff is a reflection of that identity. But over time, we change, our identities change, we grow, and yet many of us, including me, still hang on to our stuff. The thing is, it’s a way of hanging on to the past. It’s usually not a conscious process, but the past in the form of these things we’ve accumulated starts to drag us
  25. 25. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 25 down, prevents us from moving forward into the present and the future."10 The dispossession practice thus becomes an evaluation of positive and negative memories from the past, potential futures and manifestation of social status which are all symbolically bound to the owned objects. As it is argued by Cherrier, de-cluttering in this sense becomes a process of emotional detachment from objects. The objects, as item-bound imagoes, takes part in the defining pattern of identity, and therefore disposing an item also entails a separation from part of the self (Cherrier 2009:329). The process of dispossession therefore becomes fairly complex when a person has extended great parts of his identity to items and thereby accumulated a great amount of item-bound imagoes. This also explains why the decision of engaging with downshifting and de-cluttering appears as extremely overwhelming to most of the informants. Contrary, when having dealt with the prioritization of imagoes, the physical de-clutter becomes easier: "… if you understand yourself and where you’re coming from and what your needs are then you can go out there and get rid of the unnecessary junk. (Andrew)" (ibid:335) The notion of extended self thus becomes central to understanding the process of dispossession. When the individual confer symbolical importance to their possessions, incorporating them in their constructional understanding of identity, dispossession becomes a complex matter to deal with for that person. To dispose items, the individual needs to face the symbolical meaning of their possessions and categorize the importance and hierarchical organization of their imagoes. Retelling the Story Cutting down item-bound imagoes helps the person create an overview of complying and conflicting imagoes. These might have been subconscious before. In the selection process the person is confronted with which imagoes are currently used for navigation 10 'Ursula Jorch - The Intentional Nomad', entered the 6th of December 11 am,
  26. 26. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 26 in everyday life; as potential imago, past imagoes or imagoes created for building social capital. By selecting and outlining the most valuable ones, the individual not necessarily reaches a state of peace, but becomes aware of inconsistency through conflicting imagoes, and reaches the state of being able to actively choose which imagoes he wants to gather in a new identity pattern. For the informants the dispossession process therefore not only counts for physical organization of material, but helps them reflect on different aspects of their identity. This brings valuable knowledge to the fore, enabling the individual to actively reflect on potential inconsistencies in their lives: "I feel like what it is giving me now is ownership of my life and not just in a freedom-from-job aspect – that’s sort of a minor, or maybe a medium part of it, but it is thinking about your life in new ways. And once you think about how to spend money, I think then, for me, it opened up how I do a lot of other things, what possessions I have around, the people that I associate with, and it brought more of my other values to the fore. (Emily)" (Grigsby 2004:3) In identifying the most important imagoes and confronting the conflicts between them, the informants get closer to constructing a personal myth which to a greater extend succeeds to unify opposing imagoes. The feeling of regaining control furthermore removes the alienation of identity and creates a sense of ownership. As an informant puts it: "…now I feel being me; I only have what I have chosen and I am who I only want to be (Alison)" (Cherrier 2009:334) Through the process of dispossession the informants get to re-evaluate their life situation. By detaching themselves to their possessions, they also are enabled to detach themselves from imagoes and vice versa. By doing this, they gain an overview of which imagoes hold the main roles in their lives and which are conflicting. From a chaotic amount of unconsciously more or less important imagoes they end up relating
  27. 27. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 27 to few imagoes. Conflicting aspects in their life becomes clearer and available for examination. We have now outlined the context for consumerism in western contemporary society, provided a theoretical frame work for describing practices within it. Finally, we have analyzed the process of dispossession from the perspective of the individual seeking to understand why the informants choose to de-clutter, how they experience the actual dispossession and the outcome. Discussion The discussion seeks to answer the question about how freedom is perceived in the society of consumers. We have decided to investigate the question on two levels: 1. What is the meaning of freedom for the consumer in the society of consumers? 2. What is the meaning of freedom for the simple livers we have investigated? These two questions leads to our main question in relation to the participants in the Simplicity Movement: What are the consequences of living simply within the consumerist society and how can we understand that from an anthropological point of view? To have a starting point for discussing freedom we will investigate Bauman's philosophical understanding of the term in the relation to society and contextualize it with the theoretical analysis conducted before in relation to Bourdieu. The “Social” Freedom According to Bauman freedom is “a social fact, socially produced and socially endowed with the meaning it happens to carry at a particular time or place” (Bauman 1988:28). In western contemporary society, he argues, freedom in the form of consumer freedom takes the role of holding together individual motivation, social integration and systemic management (Bauman 1988:74). Freedom is therefore a key concept that must investigated to achieve a better understanding of Bauman’s societal analysis of liquid modernity.
  28. 28. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 28 Looking “freedom” up in the Oxford dictionary one finds the following definition: “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”. From this definition it follows that external circumstances takes a determining role for the freedom of the individual. Either, the individual is granted “the right” of being free, or the individual succeeds in achieving “the power” to exercise freedom. It is on the basis of this observation of freedom as a social relation Bauman’s definition of freedom must be understood as power and privilege (Bauman 1988:27). He writes: "For one to be free there must be at least two. Freedom signifies a social relation, an asymmetry of social conditions; essentially it implies social difference […] If being free means a release from ties […], this makes sense only thanks to the others who are tied, who carry obligations…" (ibid:9) His notion of freedom thus becomes one of dualism; for one to be free, another must be un-free. This does not mean that freedom is a quality that can be possessed by the individual himself. According to Bauman, defining the existence of freedom only makes sense in the relation between individuals and groups, signaling and reproducing a differentiation in status (ibid:7). Through division and separation, freedom thus “sets the best apart from the rest” (ibid:9). In relation to the society of consumers we found that the failed consumers consists of such an opposite to relate to. In the society of consumers this is the group to which the privileged can confirm themselves their way of living. When it is obvious that a group does not have the access to the same amount of economic or social capital and thereby obtaining symbolic power, an affirmation of the freedom emerges. Bauman argues that when public institutions, social inheritance and religion earlier assisted the individual in shaping his “life project”, this struggle for being part of “the best” and exercising freedom becomes the individual life project of today (ibid:41). The lack of external guide lines leaves the individual free to shape his life – and therefore he has the full responsibility for success. This social paradox is described by Bauman as follows:
  29. 29. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 29 "Everyone has to answer himself the question ‘who am I’, ‘how should I live’, ‘who do I want to become’ – and at the end of the day, be prepared to accept responsibility for the answer. In this sense, freedom is for the modern individual the fate he cannot escape, except by retreating into a fantasy world or through mental disorder. Freedom is, therefore, a mixed blessing. One needs it to be oneself; yet being oneself solely on the strength of one’s free choice means a life full of doubts and fears of error." (ibid:62) Understood from this, freedom equals uncertainty and insecurity. The individual can in this sense be seen as under-socialized (lack of “external guide lines”) and over- socialized (as the identity is at all time being renegotiated, the core is not “hard” enough to withstand the influence of external social pressure) (ibid:41). The dualistic understanding of freedom therefore also counts for security as an opposition to individual freedom. Then, as the individual gains freedom in the liquid modern society it also suffers insecurity. Therefore he seeks alternative guide lines for creating identity and ensuring social acceptance. Such are found in consumerism where commodities symbolically expressing identity, can be found and put together in endless combinations. Thus, when an identity is “chosen” it can be realized (at appearance) by making the necessary purchases (ibid:63). Even, the advice of life style experts or celebrities already enjoying social acceptance can be used as a guide line for choosing the “right” product (ibid:64). This creates an experience of freedom and security in the same time, and makes consumerism a “fantasy community” where the individual can escape uncertainty about identity and choice making (ibid:62). We would like to criticize Bauman for this constructivist idea about freedom in consumerism since his pessimism towards contemporary society is all but too apparent. Some consumers are happy and feel they are free when they consume. How can Bauman then say they are not free? A field is defined as having implicit rules through the construction of habitus. In the society of consumers there seems to be, as
  30. 30. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 30 mentioned before, a doxic situation where the rules are reproduced and affirmed by the agents; thereby creating a coherent experience of freedom. As late anthropologist Franz Boas says in some of the few anthropological writings on the subject: “Freedom is a concept that has meaning only in a subjective sense. A person who is in complete harmony with his culture is free. For this reason, the concept of freedom can develop only in those cases where there are conflicts between the individual and the culture in which he lives”. (Boaz as in Bidney 1967:450)11 In the society of consumers the notion of freedom is so ingrained in the habitus of the agents that most people do not question if they are free or not. Due to the continuous consumer actions individuals are affirmed (again in the doxic state of society) in their feeling of freedom . In other words the experience of freedom is social, both because the successful consumers can see themselves as privileged in opposition to the underclass, and because of the 'harmony' or doxa in the society, which is felt through the construction of habitus. The consumers who actively participate in consumerism are not aware of a conflict - they feel free! This experience is what we will call the social freedom. For the simple livers or de- clutters on the contrary, there arises a conflict as mentioned through our analysis. When triggered by a certain event they experience an alienation towards the field and the construction of their own habitus. They no longer see the doxic situation or harmony within the society of consumers and on this basis they become un-free. The “Personal” Freedom The experience of oppression, anxiety and being un-free emerges with the triggering event. They suddenly feel inconsistency between habitus and the field, provoking them to re-negotiate their lives. The informants become aware of the pressure they felt all along while "being asleep" and following the "consumption machine". They feel an 11 We did not have access to the original material from Boaz since the book is an antique.
  31. 31. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 31 urge to organize and clarify their values to face the alienation they feel towards themselves. As Dave Bruno expresses: "For some time I had been grappling with the negative effects of our consumer culture – the fact that we, when considered as individuals and together, are defined in so many ways by material possessions and their accumulation. I knew I wanted to be free of the pressure that comes with owning so many things. But it was hard for me to put my finger on what I was freeing myself from." (Bruno 2010:26) As it was found in the analysis, dispossession is by the informants used as a powerful tool to re-evaluate one's current life situation. Furthermore the de-cluttering helps the informants to identify which imagoes are important to them in their current life situation, allowing them to consciously and actively renegotiate the questions; ‘who am I’, ‘how should I live’ and ‘who do I want to become’. To use Bauman's terms, they resign from the fantasy world of consumerism and take responsibility of answering these questions. The triggering event makes them realize how consumerism has been an escape from actively answering these questions as providing some guide lines for endlessly hunting "the good life": “…it is by endlessly acquiring the right things that we measure our distance from the good life. We are getting, but never getting there” (Bruno 2010:xii) The statement expresses a feeling of idle; of moving, but never getting anywhere. By breaking with what is seen as the reproduction of commoditization they engage in re- defining the good life to themselves. By de-cluttering their material possessions, the informants not only deal with "the pressure that comes with owning so many things", but also symbolically organize their imagoes. By doing this they become aware of creating a physical as well as mental space in which the potential for choosing is experienced as the potential for new priorities. In an interview with a blogger on "midway simplicity" Dave Bruno says:
  32. 32. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 32 "The difficulty that every person who pursues a life of simplicity comes up with is – once you get rid of all the stuff – what now are you gonna put in your life? – ‘cause you empty up a lot in your life. You empty up time, you empty up space in your mind, in your heart and physical space in your house, relationships, space for relationships… What are you gonna fill that space up with? Because, just because stuff maybe wasn’t the right to fill it up with doesn’t mean that… something else might also be a bad thing to fill it up with…"12 The potential of this spaciousness constitute a clear potential for changing actions, values and behavior in one's life. By confronting imagoes and choosing which are the most important ones, also an awareness of conflicting imagoes will emerge. By dealing with the fewer imagoes left after the symbolical dispossession, the work of creating a personal myth which to a greater extend manage to unify the personal imagoes becomes possible. One of their informants explains how she experienced moving into a small 400 square- foot house: "This is the first house that matches our personality. The other houses, I think they were trying to do more like what you were talking about. Maybe they were trying to say to the world, “Ken Ewing is a builder and he can build cool houses” or something. And this is the first house that we’ve just had fun, we’ve expressed ourselves artistically, and we’ve only built, have what we need. Not you know, what we think other people would like. (Mary)" (Cherrier 2007:13). Mary adds to her description, how she needs to gather strength to disregard her friends’ unsupportive opinions about the house. There exists a clear dichotomy in Mary's statement between the houses they have lived in before and the new house. The new house is associated with fun, being 12 'Youtube', entered 1 st of December at 6 pm.,
  33. 33. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 33 creative and expressing their personality for the first time. The new house, in opposition to the previous houses is not trying to be what they "think other people will like" and expressing to the world that "Ken Ewing is a builder and he can build cool houses". The previous houses in this sense become a medium for commoditizing themselves. Anyway, the choice of downshifting is not received well among friends and thus creates an experience of opposition between creation of symbolic capital and personal, artistic fun in creating a house which they need. From this example it seems that the informants distinguish between the “before” and “after” life, as oppositional. What constitutes this feeling? The “before” was classified as unconscious following the stream and the search for creating the good life through commoditization. What is entailed in the process of commoditization is the exchange of economical capital to social capital. Their focus was set on constructing an identity on building symbolic capital. Their life was focused on realizing the ‘social’ freedom. “After” is characterized as “personal realization”, “creativity” and authenticity in “being the true me”. The feeling of control, the potential of mental spaciousness and identification of main imagoes is what we will call the ‘personal’ freedom. When choosing to simplify their life, a clear distinction between the two categories seems to constitute an opposition from which they classify their values. By mediating between negative connotations about their life style “before” and positive about the life style “after” their choice becomes always present through the encounter with the field; the society of consumers: "I feel guilty. Twice I stopped shopping there. Once for 2 years and once for about a year. And really when I bought my house it just got really hard. I live right next to Wal-Mart, really close at least. I’m up late at night and sometimes you’ve got to beat the crowds, and it’s easy to go at 1 in the morning and do your shopping there. But yeah, I do feel guilty bout it. … Some people don’t ever think about consumption and some people would never go near McDonald’s or Wal-Mart. And I’m somewhere in between. (Diana)" (Cherrier 2007:25)
  34. 34. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 34 Downshifting does for the informants mean a reduction in symbolic capital. This creates some kind of tension between them and their social surroundings. These people have the means to consume, but chooses not to. They have decreased the amount of commodities they own and minimized their consumption - but they are still consuming and taking part in the society of consumers. Dispossession out of Place In order to understand this situation we think it is relevant to classify the simple livers as being in the words of Mary Douglas matter out of place relating to the society of consumers. Douglas introduces in her book 'Purity and Danger' from 1966 through the discussion of dirt. She investigates how the notion of dirt relates to a negative representation of a situation or person that is unwanted and seen as a threat to the society. They are seen as polluting through the symbol they represents as opposed to the right conduct which is seen as pure. "Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements." (ibid: 36). This distinction must be understood from the importance of classifying and categorizing. Impressions and experiences and social relations are understood by categorization. As long as there is a category for things they are harmless, but when falling outside classification they are seen as a danger or a taboo. Douglas says that: "Any given system of classification must give rise to anomalies, and any given culture must confront events which seem to defy its assumptions. It cannot ignore the anomalies which its scheme produces, except at risk of forfeiting confidence." (Douglas 1984; 40) Several of the informants quoted in this paper have expressed problems when facing the greater circle of society who are having a hard time accepting their change of lifestyle. As we have shown the society of consumers reproduces the behavior of consuming goods in order to construct identity. As Bauman outlines the consequences of not
  35. 35. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 35 adhering to this rule (in special relation to not being able to, due to lack of the necessary capitals) results in an exclusion of the society. The simple livers are not lacking the necessary symbolic power through capitals to reproduce the consuming behavior - they are simply choosing not to. This makes them an oddity in relation to the society of consumers. They are not failed consumers and they are not successful consumers - they are something in between. So the consequence of being a simple liver within the society of consumers is a situation of living in between. They experience a mediation between two sets of norms. One which they have been living by and later actively chosen not to comply to - the society of consumers. Another; their new set of values found through the process of de-cluttering. By understanding our informants in this light we can explain the apparent conflicts they are experiencing in relation to their life style. The people around them do not know how to categorize them. As they are questioning the rules in the field by their simple living, they become a threat towards other agents' compliance sense of doxa in the field. Their behavior can be seen as taboo in the society, thereby estranging the simple livers. Conclusion In this paper we have sought to clarify the consequences of simplifying one's life, through material dispossession. We have accomplished this by investigating the Simple Living Movement on two levels: First, in relation to society in general, and secondly in relation to the individual. In order to do this we have used the descriptive frame presented by Zygmunt Bauman concerning the society of consumers. Bauman's insights have been contextualized by the theoretical tools provided by Pierre Bourdieu, enabling us to relate the generalist observations of society with the individual experience of the simple livers. We found that there is an apparent doxic situation inside the field society of consumers, in which the rules are reproduced through a certain kind of behavior. This behavior is determined by the relation between buying a product and thereby becoming a product oneself. Commoditization as a circular reproduction of social and economic capital, thus gives the consumers a feeling of
  36. 36. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 36 consistency within the field. Since there is harmony between the field and the agent through the construction of habitus, the successful consumer (as opposed to the failed consumer) does not experience any conflict. As Franz Boas argues, the notion of freedom only make sense as a subjective matter. We can argue based on these findings, that the successful consumer experience a 'social' freedom. What we realized was that this frame work was not adequate to clarify the individual incentives of the informants who are engaging in the dispossession process. Therefore, we chose to use the theory of imagoes by Dan McAdams. We argued that imagoes can be linked to items and therefore takes part in the participants’ identity creation linked to past memories, potential future scenarios and social desirable appearance. Through dispossession the participant not only sort materials, but re-evaluate these self-images seeking to define who they want to be. This sorting of self-images through dispossession leads to an experience of spaciousness and emptiness as a result of the reduction from an overwhelming amount of self-images assembled over time to few actively chosen self-images. The process of dispossession thus becomes a powerful tool for the informants to re-evaluate one’s life situation. The feeling of control, the potential of mental spaciousness and identification of main imagoes as a result of this process is what we call the ‘personal’ freedom. It is important to note though, that this 'personal' freedom is not necessarily an easy freedom. The individual is continuously pressured externally by the norms of the society of consumers, personalized through encounter with family, friends and wider society. Furthermore, the experience of pressure is magnified internally through the dispositions in habitus. This led us to the main question: What are the consequences of living simply within the society of consumers and how can we understand this from an anthropological point of view? We answered this question by introducing Mary Douglas and her investigations into matter out of place. We argued that our informants can be seen as a threat to the society of consumers, since they do not fit into existing categories; they have the symbolic power for creating great commoditization of self and thereby
  37. 37. Freedom in consumerism Bachelor Nikoline Høgsgaard Leon Aahave Uhd 37 achieving prestige within the society of consumers. Nonetheless, they choose not to. We suggest that their actions are perceived as taboo. Finally, we concluded that, even though they want to function as simple livers within the society of consumers, they are met by estrangement. Suggestions for further investigation Due to the scope of this paper we have had to prioritize which threads in relation to the Simplicity Movement that we wanted to follow. We see some obvious areas that should be further investigated in relation to our findings. We have used blogs as empirical data in this assignment and in our extensive research for empirical materials we could see a strong community in the Simplicity Movement where people shares their concerns in relation to downshifting as well as help each other in the process. Since, as we suggested, there seems to be an estrangement of the simple livers in relation to society it could be interesting to see what kind of community there exists online. In what degree do they relate to each other as a compensation for meeting silent resistance from society to their practices? Could the online world be an imagined community where a new field is created with values in accordance with the Simplicity Movement? Another aspect that could be of interest is to investigate how especially the economic threat towards the consumer society from simple livers could be understood. In a world with a global financial crisis where the discourses on growth solely is seen in relation to the economic aspects the simple livers definitely presents an interesting case in relation to the concept of taboo.
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