In studies of consumerism it has become almost a truism to claim that the purchase, use and display of goods in some way expresses social identities. Such acts of consumption are imagined as symbolic work in the reflexive project of the self, communicating to others messages of identity, belonging and distinction. The parallel claim that advertising is the prime mediator of these meanings has also gained axiomatic status. This conceptual framework has set up a familiar problematic; we apply individual agency by using the meanings in advertising as symbolic resources in the processes of the construction and communication of our identities. Simultaneously, advertising manipulates us and bends our individual agency to its own commercial ends.
This conceptual framework has recently attracted considerable critical attention (e.g. Campbell 1997, 1999; Falk and Campbell 1997). Indeed, I would argue that the model assumes a preconstituted, core subject - however amenable to modification - which takes on the consumerist project of the self. What if the meanings in advertising are not purely directed towards the expression or communication of identities? Rather than expressing individual agency in the interpretation and 'use' of advertising, what if agency were produced only in the very act of interpreting? How should we then consider advertising images and their role in the construction and communication of identities?
These are some of the questions which have inspired this book and have opened up new connections between the cultural and the political, the visual and the material, advertising and belonging, consumerism and the rights of citizenship. Of course, innovation and the production of the new are intrinsic to consumerism and tend to structure the conceptual field of the study of consumerism. It is often suggested that in the West we live in a culture of innovation in which ideas, identities, pleasures, goods and images have a short shelf-life. Planned obsolescence presides over cultural life - advertising pushes relentlessly onward, making the new appear outdated in no time. This 'no time' of consumer culture is constructed as a 'perpetual year zero' in which consumer culture is relentlessly refigured as new (Slater 1997:10). The advertising industry appears to manufacture or recycle the