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

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. This may be due to the fact that the phenomenon of second-hand goods has developed itself in more mature consumer societies, and has drawn the attention of researchers to those areas before Italy, where the concept of used goods has raised a new interest recently.

The starting point to initiate an analysis of used goods in Italy is based on the dynamics of points of sale and, more generally, on the various types of exchange of used goods that are becoming more and more popular in this country, too. If we look at the commercial side only of these different types of exchange, since this offers us the chance to draw on solid statistics, there is a tendency in the demography of businesses that may indicate a change in the way retail facilities and consumers understand the word "used". This is also associated with a clear expansion of the phenomenon through the web, which is demonstrated by the success of dedicated portals (Craig's List) such as the Italian website and the fact that eBay has created a section dedicated to auction-free advertisements (Kijiji).

As for physical locations, the number of shops selling second-hand clothes and collectibles has increased constantly in the last few years. According to the statistical analyses conducted by the Milan Chamber of Commerce1 in 2013, the Italian points of sale have increased by 17%, meaning that the number selling this type of item has increased from 980 to 1147. …

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