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consumption, geography of

  The study of the geography of consumption of commodities (see commodity). Until quite recently, the study of the geography of consumption had only a fitful history in geography: the Berkeley School of cultural geography had shown an interest in certain issues to do with consumption, most notably food taboos and diets, and the geographies of recreation and retailing sometimes showed a tangential concern; but in the 1970s and early 1980s most interest in consumption was, in effect, focused on one commodity only — housing (see housing studies). In the middle 1980s, this narrow focus began to broaden out, especially through work on \'consumption sectors\', but it was not until the early 1990s that consumption started to become an important point of attention in and for itself, for example through work in social and cultural geography on the \'service class\' (see class: Thrift, 1987). That consumption should have remained undiscovered for so long as an object of human geographical enquiry was certainly remarkable because of its ubiquity in everyday life, its massive economic importance and the efforts that had gone into its understanding elsewhere in the social sciences and humanities (e.g. Campbell, 1987; Miller, 1987; McCracken, 1990; Willis, 1990; Richards, 1991). It was all the more remarkable because the landscape of consumption is such an integral and obtrusive part of late twentieth-century modernity whether in the form of the shopping mall, the supermarket, the theme park, the heritage centre, or the humble shop on the main street (Knox, 1991; Shields, 1989). Yet, in the space of just ten years, human geographers have turned this story of neglect into a thriving area of research: work in human geography on consumption is now at the forefront of work in the social sciences and humanities (Gregson, 1995; Jackson and Thrift, 1995, Environment and Planning A, 1995/96).

Currently, the geography of consumption is fixed on a series of social-cum-cultural issues to do with the way that commodities and their meanings have become intertwined. The first of these is an interest in the historical geography of consumption and the lessons it holds for modern consumption (Glennie and Thrift, 1992, 1996; Miller, 1991). The second issue is the symbolic work that is done on commodities which invests them with rich and geographically variable meanings — by producers (through the design of commodities), by advertisers (Leslie, 1999), by retailers, and by consumers themselves. Special attention has been paid to how commodities interweave with particular kinds of social activity in specialized spaces, in the process producing new forms of Identity (Shields, 1992; Mort, 1996). In particular, detailed ethnographic research has been carried out on the various forms of shopping; in shopping malls, at car boot sales (Crewe and Gregson, 1997a, 1997b), or from news stands ( Jackson, 1999a). A third issue has been the extent to which a common global capitalist culture has been created by the ever-increasing circulation of commodities and commodity meanings around the world, especially as chains of production and consumption seem to get ever-longer and more complex (as in the cases of \'exotic\' fruits and flowers; see food, geography of: cf. globalization). In other words, does the spread of McDonald\'s burgers, Coca-Cola cans, Celine Dion CDs, and the like mean that local cultures will become homogenized and sanitized? The consensus seems to be that what is happening instead is that new forms of local culture are being produced, along with new meanings of what counts as \'local\' (Watson, 1998; Jackson, 1999b). A fourth issue is the increasing extent of commodification. New forms of commodity are constantly being produced and marketed as new means of making the world saleable are invented. For example, geographers have studied the increasing commodification of knowledge, as manifested in the copyrighting of genetic material (Whatmore, 1999). Again, as they increase in number and sophistication, so commodities seem to take on a life of their own, calling for new modes of understanding like actor-network theory and non-representational theory. Finally, interest in the geography of consumption must be seen as part and parcel of a fascination with postmodernism. In the most apocalyptic of postmodern pronouncements, the chief reason for existence has become consumption; signs of the commodity have become more important than the commodity itself and people have begun to lose their identity in the melée of consumption (Baudrillard, 1998; Bauman, 1993; Clarke, 1997). But the careful empirical research carried out by geographers over the course of the 1990s (e.g. Miller, Jackson, Thrift, Holbrook and Rowlands, 1998) must give considerable pause to this kind of depiction. (NJT)

References Baudrillard, J. 1998: The consumer society: myths and structures. London: Sage. Bauman, Z. 1993: From pilgrim to tourist — or a short history of identity. In S. Hall and P. du Gay, eds, Questions of cultural identity. London: Sage, 18-36. Campbell, C. 1987: The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism. Oxford: Blackwell. Clarke, D. 1997. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Environment and Planning A, 1995/1996. Special issue on changing geographies of consumption. Environment and Planning A 11: 1875-930, and 12: 10-68. Crewe, L. and Gregson, N. 1997a: The bargain, the knowledge and the spectacle: making sense of consumption in the space of the car boot sale. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18: 219-46. Crewe, L. and Gregson, N. 1997b: Excluded spaces of regulation: car boot sales as an enterprise culture out of control. Environment and Planning A 29: 1717-37. Glennie, P. and Thrift, N.J. 1992: Modernity, urbanism and modern consumption. Environment and Planning D. Society and Space 10: 423-44. Glennie, P. and Thrift, N.J. 1996: Consumers, identities, and consumption spaces in early modern England. Environment and Planning A 28: 25-96. Gregson, N. 1995: And now it\'s all consumption? Progress in Human Geography 19. Jackson, P., Stevenson, N. and Brooks, K. 1999a. Environment and Planning D. Society and Space 17, 353-68. Jackson, P. 1999b. Commodity Culture: the traffic in things. Transactions IBG, NS 24, 95-108. Jackson, P. and Thrift, N.J. 1995: Geographies of consumption. In D. Miller, ed., Acknowledging consumption. A review of new studies. London: Routledge, 204-37. Knox, P. 1991: The restless urban landscape: economic and social cultural change and the transformation of metropolitan Washington, D.C. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81: 181-209. Leslie, D. 1997: Flexing specialised agencies? Reflexity, identity and the advertising industry. Environment and Planning A 29: 1017-38. Leslie, D. 1999: Consumer subjectivity, space, and advertising research. Environment and Planning A 31: 1443-58. McCracken, G. 1990: Culture and consumption. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. McKendrick, N., Brewer, J. and Plumb, J. 1978: The birth of consumer society. London: Hutchinson. Miller, D. 1987: Mass consumption and material culture. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Miller, D., ed., 1995: Acknowledging consumption: a review of new studies. London: Routledge. Miller, D., Jackson, P., Thrift, N.J., Holbrook, B., and Rowlands, M. 1998: Shopping, place and identity. London, Routledge. Miller, R. 1991: Selling Mrs Consumer: advertising and the creation of suburban socio-spatial relations, 1910-1930. Antipode 23: 263-301. Mort, F. 1996: Cultures of consumption: masculinities and social space. London: Routledge. Richards, T. 1991: The commodity culture of Victorian England. London: Verso. Sack, R.D. 1988: The consumer\'s world: place as context. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 78: 642-64. Shields, R. 1989: Social spatialisation and the built environment. The West Edmonton Mall. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 7: 147-64. Shields, R., ed., 1992: Lifestyle shopping. The subject of consumption. London: Routledge. Thrift, N.J. 1987: The geography of late twentieth century class formation. In N.J. Thrift and P. Williams, eds, Class and space. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 207-53. Watson, J., ed., 1998: Golden Arches East. McDonalds in East Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Whatmore, S.J. 1999: Elephants on the move. Spatial formations of wildlife exchange. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 17. Willis, P. 1990: Common culture. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Suggested Reading Jackson and Thrift (1995)



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