Advertising and Consumer Citizenship: Gender, Images, and Rights

By Anne M. Cronin | Go to book overview

1

The individual, the citizen and the consumer

Il y a nulle parité entre les deux sexes quant à la conséquence du sex. Le mâle n'est mâle qu'en certains instants, la femelle est femelle toute sa vie ou du moins toute sa jeunesse; tout rapelle sans cesse à son sexe.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1782 1

[There is no parity between the two sexes due to the nature of sexual difference. The male is only male at certain moments, the female is female all her life or at least all her youth; her sex is continually invoked.] 2

In this chapter, I explore the links between the political culture of citizenship and the consumer culture of advertising. The chapter's focus is an investigation of the category of 'the individual' which bridges two of my central concerns. Firstly, historically embedded discourses of 'the individual' are primary defining forces of the nature and the rights of both the citizen and the consumer. Secondly, feminists have engaged in a range of theoretical critiques which have demonstrated that the ostensibly neutral, universal category of the individual veils a sexed, racialised and classed particularism. In effect, the rights of the individual are based on a white, male, classed, heterosexual model which excludes subordinate groups. Exploring the structurally sexed, classed and racialised nature of the ostensibly neutral, universal 'individual' goes some way to explain the uneven and paradoxical way in which gender has been theorised in consumerism. Thus, focusing on the individual as a socio-political taxonomy enables me to explore how gender is a central, structuring principle of citizenship and consumerism. It also provides a way into thinking through the assumptions about 'the subject' of consumer culture. Many studies posit a preformed subject who engages with discourses of consumerism, 'applying' individual agency in acts of consumption. Examining the discursive construction of this subject allows a more nuanced analysis of agency, mediation and power.

My focus on discourse aims to explore social identities as 'complexes of meaning, networks of interpretation' (Fraser 1997:152). Nancy Fraser usefully summarises what a theory of discourse can contribute to feminism,

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