Inequalities: Sociology and Consumer Society

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A consumer society is best defined as the process in which goods and services are bought and used to satisfy people’s perceived needs (J.Obelkevich. 1994). The image of this consumer society can be described as one of individualism and freedom but it can also be marked by social divisions, inequalities and exclusions. This essay examines the relationships there are between consumerism, the social divisions this engenders and ultimately the choices, if any, this offers to people. It shows how our choices can be defined by the type of people we are, the way that we are perceived by others and our ability to consume.

Consumption is now seen as the major aspect for many in our society and a dominant force in shaping all our identities. It’s not just about our basic needs it has become a form of socialisation and self-expression. What we buy and how we use these things provide an indicator of who we are (Making Social Lives, 2009, p20). It gives us a sense of belonging in a consumer society.

As Zygmunt Bauman (Making Social Lives, 2009, p.25) points out ‘we live in a consumer society but not an equal society’. New social divisions and exclusions have erupted as our consumer society grows. The choices we have are not always equal choices and everyone is not equally able to consume (Hetherington, 2009, p. 4). The restrictions, constraints and in turn these inequalities have turned society into a divided society, where our social identity is now perceived by others in the things that we consume.

Consumerism is supposed to offer people the promise of choice and freedom, but this is only true for an enabled portion of society, those who are able to participate effectively or those Bauman named the Seduced (Making Social Lives, 2009, p.26). These are the affluent, employed, young members of our society who are seen as socially acceptable. With this acceptance and their disposable income to consume effectively, their choices are widened. They are able...
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