Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Consuming Bodies: Mall Walking and the Possibilities of Consumption

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Consuming Bodies: Mall Walking and the Possibilities of Consumption

Article excerpt

Introduction

If one considers, as do Henderson and Petersen (2002:2), that 'consumerism has become a way of thinking and a way of life, and provides the very basis for our concept of self, or identity', then it is no surprise that the literature on consumption studies has continued to grow. As anything in social life can become an object of consumption (Baudrillard 1988), a number of disciplines are now viewing consumerism and (and its complex interrelationships with the social and economic aspects of commodification and consumption) through many different kind of social processes and relations, including gender, kinship, ethnicity, age, sexuality and locality. Consumption is a thoroughly multi-disciplinary topic, and this has led, as Edwards (2000) notes, to 'a contested terrain of definitions' (2000:13), where differences in theoretical and empirical foundations of perspectives remain fundamental to debates concerning questions of consumption and consumer societies.

The heterogeneity (and history) of consumption theory is important to the following discussion of obesity, for we are immediately led to multiple and complex meanings of consumption, rather than a singular understanding. At its simplest and takenfor- granted level (as it is currently used in much clinical literature), consumption refers to the process of consuming, of 'using up, devouring or even eating' (Edwards 2000:10). But from this semantic representation consumption can then branch out into multiple analyses. In acts of desire to consume, people can be 'unconstrained rational actors seeking to maximise positive personal outcomes' (Edwards 2000:11), or, taking a political economy approach, can be seen to fall victim to the lures of packaging and advertising and the negative consequences of consumption. While it is not our intention in this paper to describe the historical antecedents of consumption (as this has already been well documented by, for example, Miller 1995; Edwards 2000; Clarke et al 2003), we aim to highlight a key feature of consumption: that is, its inherent paradox. Consumers can, on the one hand, construct and display their own sovereignty through what they consume, but at the same time cannot escape the fact that consumption plays an ideological role in actually controlling the character of everyday life (Miles 1998; Edwards 2000).

Rather than 'buy into' and reproduce dualist discourses of 'good' or 'bad' consumerism, this paper takes as its starting point contemporary theoretical insights that acknowledge the 'fulcrum of dialectical contradiction' (Miller 1995:33) that surrounds consumption. It is through the case study of mall walking in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Australia (an area with high prevalence rates of obesity and related diseases) that we problematise the taken-for-granted and causative aspects of consumption. As the name suggests, mall walking is organised exercise in shopping malls, in which people do 'circuits' of the complex before the shops open to trade with the public. This is not Walter Benjamin's 19 th century solitary flaneur [or Friedberg's flaneuse (1993)], the stroller (usually male) who seeks to bathe in the crowd, and immerse (himself) in the sensations of the shopping arcades and city. Rather, these are organised (and often fast paced) routes that take place at very specific times of day and with the specific goal of exercising and removing the excess flesh of consumption.

In order to examine the differing modalities of consumption, the paper is divided into three sections. The first section briefly examines the ways in which consumption has been used in health discourses, and in particular, centrally implicated in discourses of obesity. Lupton, writing in 1994, suggests that 'little health promotion theory has been informed by recent socio-cultural theoretical developments in understanding consumerism, commodity culture and everyday life choices' (Lupton 1994:111). We argue that within the current obesity literature this is still the case, as consumption remains ideologically wedded to a simplistic discourse of moral economy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.