Discuss the Role of the Concepts of the Seduced and the Repressed for Understanding the Place of Consumption in Contemporary Consumer Society

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Environmental unsustainability / Vivienne Brown p.115

Discuss the role of the concepts of the seduced and repressed for understanding

the place of consumption in contemporary consumer society.

This essay will give two sides to Bauman’s concepts and address the implications in

order to ascertain whether or not the roles of these concepts do help us to

understand the place of consumption, in what is increasingly being referred to by

many social scientists as a consumer society.

Consumer society is a term used by many social scientists, including Zygmunt

Bauman, when referring to contemporary Western society. Hetherington argues that

the conceptual shift away from the term ‘industrial society’ to ‘consumer society’

stemmed from the decline in traditional manufacturing industries in the 1980’s. This

resulted in an increase in employability in the middle class service sector for the

working classes, enabling the masses to afford and enjoy the trappings that were

previously only attainable by the well paid and wealthy. As a result of this, class

divisions were less obvious and consumption became a major factor in determining

how society was characterised. (2009, p. 22).

Bauman’s concepts of the seduced and repressed refers to his categorisation of

consumers based on their ability to consume effectively in contemporary consumer

society. Some of the factors taken in to account by Bauman for categorisation in to

either group include: wealth, age, ability, disability, social status, freedom and

discrimination. Bauman argues that the seduced are the consumers that are able to buy

into a particular lifestyle and are able to feel included in to certain social groups.

Hetherington notes that Bauman argues the seduced are consumers that

can display their perceived membership of social status to others by being able to

purchase goods for reasons other than that of the function of the good itself. (2009, p

27). For example a £5 watch from a petrol station tells one the time, however, an

£80,000 Patek Philippe watch does much more than this. It is a non verbal means of

conveying to others, the owner’s status as a wealthy individual. In this respect,

Bauman’s concept of the seduced is similar to Veblen’s concept of conspicuous

consumption. Hetherington notes that Veblen’s concept involves consuming as not

only a means to display to others one’s wealth but also as a means to join in, to be

included in social circles of where the consumer feels that they belong. (2009, p. 33).

However, consumers that have disposable income may choose not to fall in to

Bauman’s category of the seduced for social, ethical or environmental reasons. For

example, a consumer with the financial means of shopping for clothes in designer

boutiques may choose not to be manipulated by media and buy clothes from local

markets or second hand shops. An ethically minded consumer may choose not to buy

items from the ‘big four’ supermarket chains, knowing that certain items may have

been manufactured by children in textile factories in Bangladesh for a pittance of a

wage much like Lina (Taylor et al, 2009, p.88). Therefore, by choosing not to

participate; consumers are not necessarily of low status as Bauman would have us


As stated earlier, Bauman’s concepts of the seduced and repressed do not hinge

singularly on a consumer’s ability to spend money, although this is a major factor in

his argument. Bauman argues that consumers that fall in to his category of the

repressed include everyone else that is not able to participate in being able to choose a

particular lifestyle. According to Bauman’s concepts, a repressed consumer would

include a consumer with ethical beliefs that would be forced to put aside those beliefs

because of financial reasons. An example of this would be a single mother on a low...
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