Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Society's Visible Patrimony. A Sociological Approach to Understanding Consumption and Material Culture

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Society's Visible Patrimony. A Sociological Approach to Understanding Consumption and Material Culture

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This essay examines Domenico Secondulfo's book Sociologia del consumo e della cultura materiale (The Sociology of Consumption and Material Culture) [FrancoAngeli, 2012], framing its contribution to the field of sociology within contemporary debates. The volume expands on observations made in earlier books by the author, La danza delle cose (1994) and Ditelo coi fiori (1995) while standing alone as its own work for its distinct theoretical framework, its conceptual layout, and Secondulfo's discussion of the content and line of argumentation. The work adds to a body of sociological literature which investigates the expressive, communicative and aesthetic power of material culture and the symbolic implications of consumption. With regard to the Italian context, there are numerous works which underline the symbolic and semiotic function of objects and the communicative potential of consumption processes (for example, see Leonini, 1988; Di Nallo, 1999; Paltrinieri, 1998; Bartoletti, 2002; Di Nallo e Paltrinieri, 2006; Sassatelli, 2007; Viviani, 2008; Mora, 2010; Setiffi, 2009, 2012, 2013; Magaudda, 2012; Marzella, 2014). In international literature, numerous studies have adopted a socio- anthropological approach to the investigation of themes related to material culture. Among the most recent of these works, we should cite: Dant (1999, 2006) on the social significance of products and objects of everyday use; Warnier (1999) on the embodied practices of material culture; Woodward I. (2001) and Molotch (2003) on the social significance of domestic objects; Warde (2005, 2011) on the application of theories of social practice in the study of consumption; Woodward I. again (2007) on the pair objects-social relations and the interdisciplinary nature of the concept of material culture; Desjeux (2006) and Shove, Trentmann and Wilk (2009) and Gregson and Crewe (2003) on material culture and everyday life; Crane and Bovone (2006) and Mora (2006) on fashion and material culture; Miller and Woodward S. (2010, 2012) and Sassatelli (2010) on the body, social practice, processes of identification and the social uses of objects; McClain and Mears (2012) on the materiality of gratuity in consumer culture as well as the numerous articles published in the Journal of Material Culture and Journal of Consumer Culture.

Secondulfo's volume can be divided into three parts: the first reflects on the 'forefathers' of sociology - Marx, Weber and Simmel - and their recognition of the symbolic mediation role played by goods and products while providing a summary of more recent sociological literature on consumption and material culture; the second part discusses the concept of material culture and its circulation in society through the different "stages" of the Cycle of material culture; the third part proposes Secondulfo's conceptual model, the Spheres of consumption and the spheres of social communication, framing it within the cycle of material culture and demonstrating the dominance of consumption in capitalistic society.

The work concludes with a series of reflections intended to outline the principle characteristics of today's "consumption society", among them: the relationship between production and consumption, the theme of citizenship, sense of time, and the processes of individualization. What is consumption society? (Secondulfo asks). "It is a society of objects (all experiences are transformed into goods or services). The relationship with objects is incredibly important, consumption society is a society of objects, symbolically objects contain the experiences and desires of people [...] it is a society of individuals (not groups)... It is a society of the present, not of the past or the future."

2. A Long Road: the Evolution of Sociology

The volume begins with a necessary introduction of the long road which led sociology to recognize "initially almost unconsciously, and with time in an ever more precise fashion, the symbolic mediation role of social relations" (Secondulfo, 2012: 11) embodied in the social nature of goods and products. …

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