Advertising and Consumer Citizenship: Gender, Images, and Rights

By Anne M. Cronin | Go to book overview
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Concluding remarks

The density of affect attached to the ideals of consumer sovereignty, rights and self-expressive choice in the West attests to the ways in which culture has become an explicit site for contesting identities and rights. I have argued that this is an intensely visual culture in which images play a central role in constituting subjects. Yet I have not taken an 'images-of-women' approach to studying gender in advertising - I have placed less stress on the representation of gender roles in images, gendered stereotypes, or the commodified of ideals of feminism such as self-expression or equality in advertising (see Goldman 1992). Many feminist analyses have outlined the centrality of women and tropes of femininity to the construction of Western consumerism (Bowlby 1985, 1993; Felski 1995; Nava 1997; Radner 1995). Such accounts demonstrate that gendered images in advertising only tell part of the story of women, advertising and consumerism - they extend the scope of analysis by pointing to the structurally gendered nature of consumerism and the ways in which gender underwrites discourses of (consumer) rights.

In my analysis of advertising I have attempted to develop this insight to consider how gender and processes of vision constitute the seeing subject and how advertising 'mediates' this constitution. I have explored these issues through the theoretical framework of performativity which shifts the focus of how we should consider the role of advertising images. Advertising does not so much provide a resource or image-pool from which the subject chooses and rearticulates meanings to express forms of selfhood. This is not a communicative paradigm of consumer acts in which the consumer orients the meanings of goods and images towards communicating their identity to others (see Campbell 1997, 1999). Rather, the subject is produced performatively in those very modes of engaging with culture. The visual process of interpretation which advertising attempts to engage does not reflect the agency of a preconstituted subject - these interpretative processes act to form that very subject performatively. This performative process draws on the rights of 'the individual' which have been accrued through histories of sexual and 'racial' subordination. The historically sedimented discursive weight of 'the individual' and his rights authorises the forms of visual interpretation that the contemporary subject enacts. This is a form of visual performativity

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