Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Geographies of Consumption

Geographies of Consumption (GC) serves as an introductory text for human geography’s treatment of consumption. Its position is predominately Western and oriented toward Anglophone cultures. Thematically is draws upon the social and spatial variations in consumption practices. As in the Castell (2004), reading Mansvel expands our understanding of “the network.” Overall GC was thought-provoking and severs as an excellent starting point for researchers interested in this area.

Consumption research in Geography is relatively recent not commencing until the 1990’s. Marxist and post-structuralist theories are the dominate frameworks employed in geographical consumption research.

Mansvelt divides consumption history into three periods; Modern, situated with the 17th and 18th centuries, Mass Consumption, 19th and 20th centuries, denoted by the evolution of public-private spaces and the development of marketing as an essential aspect of product promotion and finally postmodernism characterized by niche markets in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

The notion of space is understood not solely as a physical manifestation but by the meaning(s) produced from such physical environs. These experiences are termed spectacular spaces typified by a combination of visible spaces such as malls, festivals, and theme parks. In contrast, home represents a public-private sphere built upon differing constructions of gender and heterosexuality. Cyberspace is differentiated from both spectacular and home spaces because of the blurred lines between public and private spheres. Furthermore cyberspace is risky (unsafe) and subject to surveillance and interference by prying governments and third parties.

Other key points:

Consumption as identity

The Body as site

The Body in spaces

Performance as identity (gender, class, community, social groups)

Food consumption as identity (Class, space, ethnicity)

Connections between production and consumption

Three models

*Commodity chain

*Commodity circuits

*Actor Network Theory

Commercial Cultures

Music (power issues, blurred lines producer/consumer, race/ethnicity, spaces, class)

Globalization (homogenization, creolization)

Tourism (the other)


1. GC emphasized middle class lifestyles. How might the various spheres discussed by Mansvelt differ if more focus was placed on consumptions of the working class?

2. How might the three-stage model of consumption differ in newly industrialized countries such as Brazil, India and China?

3. Blurred lines were a reoccurring theme in Castells (2004). Mansvelt too mentions blurred lines in addition to power dynamics. Does the evolution of producer/consumers challenge traditional notions of power mentioned in GC?


Anonymous said...

I think I most enjoyed the last chapter of Mansvelt, “Moralities” the most. One of the things that piqued my interest was the notion of sustainable consumption, especially since earlier in the semester we talked about "sustainability" being a word to sum up the current era. Mansvelt cites a study by Hobson on a UN initiative called Agenda 21, which promoting sustainable consumption as:

“The use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, whilst minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic material, and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” (p. 158).

I wonder if this idea has maintained any more traction since 1992 when this was written. Wikipedia says there have since been sessions to assess the implementation of Agenda 21, but, in general, I wonder how much ideas like this show up in the literature on uneven development.

The bigger question is, it is possible or likely for actors, such as governments, to encourage sustainable consumption, even at the level of individuals? Or is consumption too central to our economic system for such a discourse to develop? Is it possible that the growing concern over climate change might some day evolve into a more widespread discourse about radically changing the consumption habits of people in highly developed countries?

Another note on Geographies of Consumption—where was Ralph Nader? I thought of this in class when we had on the board the consumer and producer point of view, but no explicit connections between them. In terms of consumer protection, there are people, like the early Nader, who work hard to make sure consumers are not taken advantage of by the producers of commodities. If only more people knew that things like the Federal Trade Commission actually exist to establish that feedback loop that allows consumers redress for false advertising and sham products!

Dale said...

One thing that struck me about Mansvelt's Geographies of Consumption was her brief mention of the point when children became a targeted consumption group. This is interesting in and of itself, but I also thought it would be interesting to consider when children became targets not only of consumer advertising but of news media. Specifically, I thought of the Weekly Reader that I read in first and second grade. (I then had to go look up the Weekly Reader presidential poll, which has now accurately predicted the result of 13 of the last 14 presidential elections.) This seems an interesting topic, as I would presume adult behaviors of both mass media and general consumption to be in some way affected by childhood experience.

Jim said...

Dead Malls and Mall Walking

We briefly mentioned mall walking, but it seems we did not do it justice.

Here is an article that recounts an attempt by a mall to restrict mall walking. It presents a different take on malls as contested spaces. It also speaks to both the broader notion of consumption at malls (something that Brenton brought up in class) and the symbiotic relationship between consumers and commercial enterprises.

Here is an article that highlights some key points from The Complete Mall Walker’s Handbook (1999)

I also can’t leave the mall discussion behind without a mention of dead malls. They played a part in my childhood (as places to ride bikes and skateboard) and also generated lots of community discussions about how they could be brought back to life. I remember going to a great haunted house in a dead mall.


This site is devoted to documenting and discussing the world of dead malls. The “Dead Mall Dictionary” is a bit sparse, but it did provide me with a word to articulate something I always found interesting - Labelscar: Fading or dirt left behind from a sign on or in a mall. Labelscars leave a readable marking, which is very helpful when identifying former stores.

The world’s largest dead mall? - test

Juliana said...

Hi there

Just thought I'd say hello and thank you all for engaging with my textbook. One of the challenges I had in writing this text was to engage with debates around meaning and use of concepts, while telling a 'story' that was coherent for readers. It is gratifying to see you take the work further, to question how it might be applied, to consider what is missing, and what implications flow from particular understandings of the world.
So thank you once again for taking the time to read the book and seasons greetings from New Zealand!

Juliana Mansvelt
Senior Lecturer in Geography
School of People,Environment and Planning
Massey University
New Zealand

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