Keeping Up Appearances: Consumption and masking poverty | Consumerism

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This paper highlights the lived experience of low-income families in a consumer culture where they cannot afford the ‘goods’ for a ‘socially acceptable’ standard of living. It documents how some families, faced with the external pressure from a consumer-driven society, turn to consumption as a coping strategy. The author concludes that it is necessary to develop a critical assessment of consumerism and, by extension, the role of marketing in it. This paper is part of a series of papers which have resulted from the Whose Economy? seminar series, held in Scotland in 2010 – 2011, whose purpose was to provide a space for researchers, representative organisations, policy-makers and people with experience of poverty to come together and explore the causes of poverty and inequality in today’s Scotland.
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    Oxfam Discussion Papers Keeping up appearances: consumption and masking poverty  A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper Kathy Hamilton June 2011   www.oxfam.org.uk  Keeping up appearances: consumption and masking poverty    A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 2 About the author Kathy Hamilton  is a senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Her teaching and research interests fall within the area of Consumer Culture Theory. Specifically she is interested in consumer disadvantage and gender differences in consumer behaviour. S he has completed a qualitative study which focused on understanding the lived experience of poverty against the backdrop of a society that is increasingly dominated by consumption. In particular she considered the coping strategies employed by low-income families to help them negotiate the marketplace, access goods and services (including brands) and avoid stigmatisation. This work has been published in a variety of journals including  Journal of Marketing Management, European Journal of Marketing, Advances in Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Behaviour   and International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. Email: kathy.hamilton@strath.ac.uk   Whose Economy Seminar Papers  are a follow up to the series of seminars held in Scotland between November 2010 and March 2011. They are written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and policy issues. These papers are ‘ work in progress’ documents, and do not necessarily constitute final publications or reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email ktrebeck@oxfam.org.uk  Keeping up appearances: consumption and masking poverty    A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 3 Contents Executive summary ................................................................................. 4   Introduction .............................................................................................. 5   1.   Poverty in consumer culture ............................................................ 5   2.   Methodology ...................................................................................... 5   3.   Findings and discussion ................................................................... 6   Experiences of stigma ......................................................................... 7   Masking poverty through consumption ................................................ 8   Discretionary and non-discretionary consumption ............................... 8   Conclusion ................................................................................................ 9   References ................................................................................................ 9   Notes ......................................................................................................... 9    Keeping up appearances: consumption and masking poverty    A Whose Economy   Seminar Paper, June 2011 4 Executive summary Low-income consumers are unable to obtain the goods and services needed for an ‘adequate’ and ‘socially acceptable’ standard of living. 1  Drawing on qualitative analysis, this paper highlights the lived experience of low-income families in a consumer culture. Findings demonstrate that, as well as dealing with the practical hardships of providing for a family on a restricted budget, the interviewees have to cope with negative attitudes and reactions from others. Some families perceive they are already judged on the basis of their welfare dependency and do not want to fuel stigmatisation in other ways. As a result, they turn to consumption as a coping strategy. Some families are skilled at reducing the visibility of poverty and overcoming society’s ability to alienate. This was especially important for the children in the study who did not want to appear different from their peers. Masking poverty through consumption could be viewed as a disconfirmation of the stereotype. By displaying brand- name or ‘on - trend’ products that are regarded as socially acceptable among peer groups, low-income consumers distance themselves from the stigma of poverty. Findings indicate that low-income families may prioritise the consumption of visible goods, such as brand-name clothing, over invisible, private goods, such as food and other goods consumed in the home. As such, this research has demonstrated the need to develop a critical assessment of consumerism and, by extension, the role of marketing in it.
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