Society inequality, perhaps even more so than in
Society has evolved from an industrial society, one that is driven by the use of technology to enable mass production, into a consumer society. This essay will explore the argument that inequalities in society are created by consumerism, and that society is constrained by these inequalities. To support these claims this essay will draw upon evidence presented by Zygmunt Bauman, and his concepts of the ‘Seduced and repressed’ (Bauman 1988, cited in Hetherington and Havard, 2014a, p. 125). This essay will also demonstrate inequalities by using examples of zero-sum game in consumer society. However to do this it will first be necessary to elaborate on what defines a consumer society, and what defines inequality within said society. Modern western society is primarily a consumer society, this means that it is not merely defined by what people manufacture or what their job is, but is equally defined by what people purchase, and how they do so, (Blakely and Staples, 2014 p. 16) Because of this consumption, society is able to grow, ensuring economic stability, and providing many jobs and services to the masses. However people have begun to consume more than just the goods they need to live, but more luxurious goods to compliment their lifestyles, (The Open University 2017a) Which can invoke a sense of belonging and stability to those who consume efficiently. (Hetherington and Havard, 2014b, p. 126) However even in this consumer driven society, there is great inequality, perhaps even more so than in an industrial society. Blakely and Staples define inequality as “unequal distribution of valued social resources within a society or between societies the social resources people value can change over time” (2014b p. 25). This would mean that in a consumer society, the pressure and desire to show status by what is purchased is a form of social resource Therefore for those with a restricted income, this can lead to a feeling of exclusion, due to an inability to participate in the consumer society. (Hetherington and Havard, 2014c, p.121). The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, claims that, like an industrial society, a consumer society is not an equal society, and states that these social divisions are rooted, not by class, but by an individuals economic ability to consume. (Hetherington and Havard, 2014d, p.125). Bauman notes that in contemporary society individuals with access to the benefits of a consumer lifestyle by having secure employment and access to cheap credit are able to buy into the lifestyle idealised by society. As opposed to an industrial society, in which people that would be described as ‘consumers’ needed to be extremely wealthy, such as land owners, doctors, business owners etc. Bauman also claims that these focuses on consumption are leading to new divisions within society. Bauman calls these main divisions the ‘seduced’ and the ‘repressed’, the seduced are individuals who are able to effectively participate in consumer society, meaning they have enough money or credit to purchase things to enforce their status and identity. The ‘repressed’ are people who have a low income, are in casual employment or are on benefits or other wise lack means to participate effectively in the consumer society, they are excluded from society and discriminated against therefore are subject to inequality, (Hetherington and Havard, 2014e, p.125-128). There are many other social factors in a consumer society that can cause division and inequality, including lifestyle, culture and ethnicity. An example of this is the wide variety of establishments, such as restaurants selling food from all over the world or specialist shops and other amenities designed to cater to an ever growing and diverse multicultural society. This can create social divides as some areas will not have the opportunity to open small, non chain establishments due to the pressure and competition from larger chain supermarkets, this could lead people to not feel they have a sense of belonging within society, creating inequality. Examples of this can be seen in the Connecting Lives (The Open University 2017b) film, where the restaurateur Nof Al-Kelaby succumbs to pressure from larger establishments, and reinvents his business to combat this pressure. Based off the information in the previous paragraph, it is time to more closely examine the impact that supermarkets have on a consumer society, and their role in creating inequalities.The main reason so many people use supermarkets is primarily due to the convenience, they generally have a wider selection of products, and especially nowadays in the modern consumer society, stock more than just food, items such as electronics and clothes can all be obtained under one roof, and usually for a fraction of the cost of the local high street shop, (The Open University 2017c). Anti supermarket lobbies claim that supermarkets shape consumer choices, and that supermarkets are making it increasingly difficult for smaller local shops to prosper as they attempt to restrict and dominate the consumer society, (Allen, 2014, p.182). However there is a cost involved in this market domination, in order to keep bringing low cost items, such as clothing to the consumers, supermarkets such as Tesco outsource much of their clothing manufacturing overseas, primarily for the cheap labour and materials cost. This has it’s own risks as can be seen in the ‘Dying for a bargain’ film (The Open University, 2017d), it is clear that in this instance, a cheap product for the consumer, comes at a very high cost for factory workers. This example of a massive inequality, workers in the Bangladesh factories work long hours, for very low pay to supply a product, however, for this to change, consumers would need to start paying more for the same product, this is an example of how zero-sum gains constrain a consumer society. Following on from this example, This essay began by exploring the argument that inequalities in society are created by consumerism, and that society is therefore constrained by these inequalities. As can be seen from all of the above information, Bauman’s concept of the ‘seduced and the repressed’, the way people now attempt to show their wealth and status through their possessions and purchases, rather than education or Job role. It is clear that consumerism not only creates and is constrained by inequality, to an extent it relies on this inequality and social division, in order to continue propelling this consumer society further and further forward, towards the next stage of affluent one-upmanship.