Wednesday, 29 December 2010

We don't choose the stuff we buy, the stuff we buy chooses us

Decentering of the subject

(From Firat and Venkatesh Postmodernity: The Age of Marketing; 1993)

The modernist project placed the human

being at the center, as the subject-that is,

as the agent that acts through and upon

others; nature and objects. The Cartesian

idea of the subject, as it is known, has dominated

modern thought. This subject is endowed

with the ability to act independently

and autonomously in the choice and pursuit

of one’s goals. This subject is also constituted

in terms of the separation between the body

and the mind (Rorty, 1979, pp. 142-145); a

precondition for the subject to graduate from

a state of being to a state of knowing. The

existential subject has now become the cognitive

subject. Knowledge acquisition for this

subject is possible by separating or distancing

oneself from a pure experience of being in

order to cievelop a cognitive understanding

of being; its context and conditions. Modern

society is organized to reflect and actively

promise the potential of the cognitive subject

by providing the knowledge and the means to

act through science and technology, The

products of modernity (of science) arc really

meant to serve the ‘subjects’ of modernity.

Postmodernists see this narrative of

modernity to be mythical or illusory. According

to them, there is, a confusion between

the subject and the object (products of the

market) as to who or what is in. control

(Hassan, 1987; Jameson, 1983). Rather than

the subject controlling the circumstances and

processes of life in one’s interactions with

the object, the objects are viewed as determining

the conditions and procedures of

consumption (Baudrillard, 1983b). In driving

cars, using microwave ovens, washing machines,

computers, and the like, the human

being is generally the follower of instructions,

the correct ways of doing things. One’s

actions are determined by the features and

structures of the products. One can as easily

visualize that the role of the human being is

to allow products to perform their functions

rather than products enabling the achievement

of human goals. Concerns for the health

of the economy, the market, often seem to

override the concern for the goals of individuals

in policies adopted by the state and/or


The confusion between the subject and

the object is further reinforced by the fact

that consumers tend to perceive themselves

as marketable items. This tendency is reinforced

by the marketing system in encouraging

representations of oneself as images. The

marketing orientation dominates not only the

positioning of products in the market by organizations,

but also in positioning of the

consumer itself, say, in the social market

(Far-at, in press). As briefly discussed earlier,

consumers assume different images and personalities

in different situations to make

themselves acceptable in each case. This is

much in evidence in today’s “body” culture.

For example, many consumers, male and female,

are increasingly buying plastic surgery

and body implants to customize parts of their

bodies to cultural expectations. There is a

distancing of one’s own gaze from one’s own

body to “view” oneself and scrutinize

one’s own images, assessing each fragmented body

part in terms of its contribution to these

images. This scrutiny often occurs from the

perspective of the other; that is, not from

one’s own, autonomous perspective, but from

the perspective of cultural expectations which

are internalized by the consumer (Emberley,

1987; Kroker and Kroker, 1987). This is really

a test of how well we fit the images

required for success. In this sense, fashion

becomes the metaphor for culture (Faurschou,

1990; Sawchuk, 1987). Such objectification

of one’s own body and self allows one

to be consumed; just like a product, acting

only to fulfill a prespecified function determined

by the market system. Specifically,

consumers become products consumed for

the production of other objects, in the offices,

production lines, and elsewhere.