Consuming Brands

Sullivan, Anthony. 2006. Consuming Brands. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (Consuming Brands)
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Abstract or Description

This research addresses the question, 'what is the relationship between young peoples' consumption of branded goods and their sense of identity'? It reveals consumption to be some way from the picture presented in postmodem analyses, which emphasise pleasure and play. Amongst my sample of twenty focus groups of late teenage students, concern about class and gender position and status, or what Bourdieu terms 'distinction', emerges as the key framework which informs their 'choices' as consumers, and their subjective sense of identity.

The judgements they make about self, other and group identity suggest consuming brands is a cultural practice which is marked by strong discursive, scopic and classificatory dimensions. These inform a series of popular stereotypes from 'Townies' and 'Skanky birds' to 'Essex boys.' Such categorisations are materialised in, and embodied by, teenagers' taste in, and use of, branded goods. They affect, not just those who are 'othered', but those who do the 'othering', reducing choice and contributing to forms of class and gender invective, social distancing and, drawing on Bourdieu's work, to wider processes of 'symbolic violence'.

In the context of these dimensions, and the prevalence of talk about bullying, my findings support the need for a more critically circumspect approach. Such a framework, needs to be one which is able to take full account of consumption as an embodied set of classed and gendered, material and symbolic, emotional as well as reflexive practices. Consuming Brands shows, young people's negotiation of the dilemma of a 'personalised versus commodified' experience of the self, is one fraught with social risks and emotional stresses. These are unequally shared in class and gender terms. The accounts given, of being addressed, and acting, as consuming subjects, reveal the contradictory nature of the subjective experience of consumption, psychosocially, and the limited choice and agency, it affords.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


consumption, brands, identity, consumer


April 2006

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Date Deposited:

09 Jul 2020 14:36

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:51


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