Buy Nothing Day: Resistance to Consumption in the Age of Digital Information

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Digital information has turned the world into a network of instant and simultaneous activities no longer limited to space, matter, or time. On the one hand, incredible technological advancements irreversibly forces marketing practices into consumers’ private space (for example E-commerce and interactive buying). On the other hand, this Aage of digitalization@ allow individuals, still desperately limited by their body and locality, to reflect and make choices on the way they consume.



Citation:

Helene Cherrier and Ivo Belohoubek (2005) ,"Buy Nothing Day: Resistance to Consumption in the Age of Digital Information", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 354-355.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 354-355

BUY NOTHING DAY: RESISTANCE TO CONSUMPTION IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL INFORMATION

Helene Cherrier, University of Westminster, UK

Ivo Belohoubek, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Digital information has turned the world into a network of instant and simultaneous activities no longer limited to space, matter, or time. On the one hand, incredible technological advancements irreversibly forces marketing practices into consumers’ private space (for example E-commerce and interactive buying). On the other hand, this "age of digitalization" allow individuals, still desperately limited by their body and locality, to reflect and make choices on the way they consume.

Considering these views, we discuss theorists who approach consumer behavior in the age of digital information as a structural phenomenon. Among those who attribute digital information and the evolution of consumption lifestyles to the structural background, and follow its deterministic extreme, we identify a group of theorists from Marshall McLuhan (1964) to Jean Baudrillard (1976, 1993, 1999), or Paul Virilio (1988, 1995). For them, technological advancement facilitates a structural phenomenon that dictates consumers and determines consumption lifestyles. From an extreme deterministic perspective, the structural component of technology prevails in every aspect of society, becoming more real than reality, more natural than nature. Here, the consumer is not only de-centered but is removed from reality (Baudrillard 1993; McLuhan 1964). In a world where reality is transformed into images and time is fragmented into a series of perpetual moments, [According to Castells (1997, 2000), the main characteristic of the new global constellation are the core processes taking place in timeless time. For him, the "elimination of sequencing creates undifferentiated timing, thus annihilating time" (1997: 127).] consumers lose their sense of identity and purpose. Without a clear defined identity, the consumer is vulnerable to alienation, manipulation, and mystification. The consumer is the consumed, not the object. The object takes control over the subject. The subject is dead. Consumers do not choose, the system of consumer culture chooses for them. Here, signs of resistance and revolt are quickly absorbed and commodified by capital. What begins as a sign of defiance soon becomes a part of consumer culture rather than a criticism of it.

One doesn=t need to agree with McLuhan and Baudrillard. First, McLuhan’s technological determinism neglected the varying forces, interests, and power relations that also influence the impact of technology on society. Second, Baudrillard’s reproduction and simulation of the erased, nonexisting society appears as something already irreversibly omnipresent. We could say, together with Douglas Kellner, that Baudrillard "describes precisely how capitalists would like the world to be" (Kellner, 1989: 28).

In this paper we emphasize that consumer behavior in the age of digital information is neither the result of pure structural determinism nor the result of pure agentic consumer choices. Indeed, we argue along with Holt (1998) and Murray (2002) that consumption choices result from a dialectical interaction between the structure and the agent. We also argue that this dialectical approach still prevails in the age of digital information. To capture the interaction between humans or groups in society with a larger structure in consumer behavior, we concentrate on the dichotomies event/discourse, movement/digital network, and actual/virtual. To grasp this dialectical process theoretically, we consider the influencial book by Pierre Levy (1998): Becoming virtual: reality in digital age. In this book, Levy analyzes the dialectics between the virtual and the actual as a driving force in our current stage of civilization. The actual is an event, or an entity, which happens in the here and now. It can be a physical or a subjective process. The virtual is an event being represented and detached from its temporal and spatial determination. Virtual, the mirror of the actual lacks the crucial "here and now" components of an event. Events constitute their virtuality. An event, which is followed by commentaries in the media, in conversation, in science, and generally in any discourse, becomes virtual, enters a new stage of its existence. The virtual mirror of the event does not follow the particularities of the actual, the complexity of the "here and now." Rather, it submits itself to the rules of these commentaries, languages, codes, and discourses. Here, virtualization is the dominant process in the construction of experience today, as more and more subjective activities rely upon secondary sources, descriptions, and interpretations.

Events or protests against consumption such as Buy Nothing Day or Buy Nothing Christmas represent a specific consumption behavior where individuals decide not to consume for an entire day and manifest against the consumer culture. The event of Buy Nothing Day happens here and now. However, it exists long before in the form of mobilization and intense communication, in the form of the discourse preceding that event. When the event happens, it becomes immediately appropriated by a discourse. "The messages that virtualizes the event are at the same time its prolongation; they participate in its accomplishment, its incomplete determination. They become a part of it." (Levy 1998: 74). Anti-consumption activists in their discourse portray events such as the Buy Nothing Day as great victories over the corporate world. The discourse, the virtual part of the event has such a tendency. Such victories (whose success relies on the way they are portrayed in the discourse) are important aspects of the identity building for the movement. The language of victory (which is, however, pretty much an exclusive property of the discourse, not that of an actual change in the anti-consumption movement) provides energy for new mobilizations, virtualizations and new eventsBnew actualizations of the virtual/ discourse.

REFERENCES

Baudrillard, Jean (1999) 'Simulacra and simulations: Disneyland’ in Charles Lemert (ed.) Social Theory, The multicultural and Classic Readings, pp. 481-486. Westview Press.

Baudrillard, Jean (1993) Symbolic Exchange and Death. Sage publications.

Holt, Douglas B.(1998), "Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?" Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (June), 1-25

Kellner, Douglas (1989) Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and beyond. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal (1984) Hegemony & Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. Verso, New York.

Levy, Pierre (2000) Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Perseus books.

Levy, Pierre (1998) Becoming Virtual, Reality in the Digital Age. Bononno, Plenum Trade, New York.

McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding media: the extensions of man. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Murray, Jeff (2002), "The Politics of Consumption: A Re-Inquiry on Thompson and Haytko’s (1997) 'Speaking of Fashion,’" Journal of Consumer Research.

Poster Mark (1990) The mode of information: poststructuralism and social context. University of Chicago Press.

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Authors

Helene Cherrier, University of Westminster, UK
Ivo Belohoubek, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005



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