Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

The Second-Hand Market: The Practice of Reusing Goods in Cultures Dominated by the New

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

The Second-Hand Market: The Practice of Reusing Goods in Cultures Dominated by the New

Article excerpt


This article offers a literary review with the intention of analysing the studies conducted on the topic of used goods. The need for reviewing the existing considerations and research on the subject lies in the necessity to examine this topic in an organic manner, since so far it has only been examined by social sciences and particularly by the sociology of consumption in a marginal fashion. The research presented thus far ranges from studies concerning the field of cultural geography to those about economics and marketing focusing on reasons for purchase and the geography of purchases. Used goods have also been the topic of cultural anthropology studies, which focus on the subject of consumption by contemporary societies in a variety of cultural contexts, and which have examined the different contexts, systems and rituals associated with this specific exchange practice. One specific element that emerged from anthropology studies on fashion is the vintage phenomenon, which has elevated used goods in this realm. The analysis of this research suggests that the study on used goods should be carried out from a material culture perspective, so that the human relationships mediated by (used) goods can be taken into account.

Keywords: used goods, sociology of consumption, vintage, new, barter, gift.

1. The consumption of used goods in Italy: an ever-changing phenomenon

The concept of contemporary consumption is understood almost exclusively as a mass phenomenon referring to new goods, as these dominate the definitions of consumption (Lipovetsky, 2007; Setiffi, 2010). The consumer society defines consumers as buyers of new goods displayed on retailers' shelves, where goods are packaged in a more and more sterile manner and barely represent their instrumental meaning and their use-value. Dominant aspects such as the packaging, the brand and the 'spectacularisation' of goods (Baudrillard, 1972; Codeluppi, 2001) have all strengthened themselves into a dimension of new goods, where the concept of new becomes a quality that goes beyond the item itself, which is purchased because it is new, regardless of its instrumental use (Setiffi, 2009).

This interpretation dominates everyday language to the point where the consumption of used goods is considered a marginal practice concerning lower social classes only, or it is seen as a concept that is socially acceptable within few and well-defined categories of goods, such as cars, houses, valuables, antiques/collectibles and all those items that are used in communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) where their participants are engaged in activities (e.g. photography, astronomical observation etc.) professionally or as hobbies.

The meaning of "new" is also extended to social science studies, which analyse the phenomena of consumption. The research on the consumption of second-hand goods has not been discussed in a methodical and structured manner by theories of consumption and the work carried out so far on the subject is constructed on accurate considerations, which however are not inserted into a solid theoretical framework.

These initial considerations justify the desire to analyse, also through this article, a methodical vision of the phenomenon by discussing the research carried out so far on the subject, with the intention of inserting the consumption of used goods into the interpretational context of the material culture. In this way it will be possible to see used goods as items that complete a cycle, starting as new goods and ending as used ones. This would then create a parallel cycle where the used goods regain exchange value and usefulness, and which in turn justifies their exchange outside consolidated retail facilities and outside those involving new goods only (Secondulfo, 2012).

Offering a literary review on this subject is useful because it would enable us to touch on the existing research, which has been carried out primarily in Anglo-Saxon and Northern European countries. …

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