Veblen’s concept of conspicuous consumption (Veblen, 1899) began to outline how the leisure classes demonstrated status through possessions. However, with increasing affluence and mass consumption, Bauman (Bauman, 1988) later suggests that consumers have become identified by what they have, as opposed to what they do, and have become further differentiated between the ‘seduced’ and the ‘repressed’; the seduced having the means to engage fully in society, but that the repressed are not in a position to become effective consumers and so, by definition, are at best marginalised.
In 2008 the national average household spend on non-essentials was 73.2% of gross weekly income (£471). Households in the highest decile spent 85% (£1,044) on non-essentials (ONS, 2008). These are the wealthiest of the seduced members of society. They live the lifestyle they aspire to. They surround, and so identify, themselves with the trappings of their success. They can be persuaded to buy the latest car, fashion or electronic gadgets and equipment. They can afford to make the choice to buy organic, Fairtrade. Many would say, surely they are the biggest winners in a consumer society?
Conversely, the repressed are typically on low incomes, often unemployed or on benefits. In 2008, households in the lowest decile in the UK had 55% (£153.7) of gross weekly income available to spend on non-essentials (ONS, 2008). So, for example, one in six low-income (compared to one in twenty for average-income) households lacks either a freezer or a washing machine (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2010).
The inability of the repressed to engage fully in the consumer society...