The Evocative Power of Things

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Literary Review: Grant McCracken, Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Good and Activities; The Evocative Power of Things (Indiana University Press 1988)

In a chapter called The Evocative Power of Things in his book Culture and Consumption, anthropologist Grant McCracken is concerned with the social ‘cultivation of hopes and ideals’ and the ‘bridging goods’ we use to cultivate what is otherwise unattainable. The author suggests that we use these goods to recover what he calls ‘displaced meanings’ of our culture. We look to buy what is missing from our lives and that enough will never be enough. He looks at what inanimate objects do for us and how our desire to consume can become the foundation of our hopes and ideals. McCracken studies the strategy of displaced meaning and supplies theoretical concepts to deal with the emerging field of hedonics. It is McCracken’s intention to gain a clearer understanding of the role of consumer goods and their meaning and how they can communicate non-linguistically. He hopes his approach to displaced meaning will add insight to into the study of consumption that may otherwise have been dismissed.

McCracken begins with an in-depth explanation of displaced meaning and the discrepancy between the real and the ideal, or, what we want versus what we have in a consumer society, it is something I think we are all familiar with. McCracken insists that those of us who are naively optimistic must concede that this gap is a permanent facet of social life and those who accept the gap, albeit cynically, must put up with an existence without hopes and dreams. This displacement strategy happens in what McCracken calls a distant cultural domain, another universe, simply put, reality is impenetrable to cultural ideals and society, but these ideals may be displaced or removed, and then be ‘kept within reach but out of danger’ to be constructed as ‘practicable realities’.

Ideals can be placed...
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