Consumption Beyond Dualism
Is one of the problems with a social science perspective on consumption precisely that it is a social science? To be a social science assumes a commitment to some kind of collectivity whether society, culture and the state, which is most commonly contrasted with various forms of individualism. So that sociology and anthropology oppose themselves to disciplines such as psychology or economics that tend to privilege the individual. For social science reduction to the individual is a problem or a sign of individualism (see for example Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2001, Bourdieu 1977, Bourdieu 1979, Giddens 1991, Miller Ed. 2009). In this chapter I want to show how the study of consumption material culture may be a means to confront and repudiate this dualism. The power of this dualism is evident in the colloquial term materialistic. To call a person materialistic is to imply an orientation towards the commodities of modern capitalism at the expense of their proper orientation which should be to other people.
The evidence I will use to refute this dualism comes largely from a recent book The Comfort of Things (Miller 2008), which examines how people cultivate material culture, particularly the objects of the home. The book presents thirty households almost all in and around a single street in South London, and examines in each case the relationship between the people who live there and the things they possess. The evidence presented there suggests that people are neither orientated towards individualism nor towards society. Instead most people live within a field of relationships to other persons and also to material things. One is not at the expense of the other; people who forge satisfactory relationships with things also tend to be the persons who forge satisfactory relationships to persons. Those who for whatever reason find it difficult to accomplish the former also find it difficult to accomplish the latter. There is little evidence to suggest any strong relationship to some larger communal entity such as society or even neighbourhood. Instead the emphasis is upon a few core relationships, the people and things that really matter to them. Kin, close friends, their home, a pet, but in some cases a computer game, fashion or a television programme. Around which form a much more extensive but shallower set of relationships.
The state and the political economy are just as important, but not because they tightly control permissible discourses as implied by Foucault, but because they do achieve something of the liberalism they espouse in creating conditions for the autonomous development of such relationships. Otherwise they have plenty to feed off in terms of the running of states, corporations and markets. Even the recent credit crunch and financial upheaval made almost no impact upon this downstream lives of people. They had more or less money, but rarely more or less core relationships. People deal with bureaucracy and taxation as they must. But as long as the state effectively provides education, health services and the market provides goods and entertainments, people may not even care that much about these transcendent forces. We do not seem to require any active allegiance to the abstractions of society or community. There are some vestiges of collectivity in the street, for instance the church and the pub, but most people make limited use of these. They generally do not know their neighbours unless they live on the smaller side-streets. These are random juxtapositions of households, determined by forces such as house prices, transport systems and proximity to work, school and leisure. The political economy and state determines these circumstances, but not how people live within them. They presume an increasingly accepted liberalism, which assumes that, inasmuch as actions do not result in any harm to others, people are free to be and do what the hell they want.
This amounts to a repudiation of much of Durkheim and the premise of social science. People do not need to believe in society; they may not bother to vote treating politics more as a spectator sport, on a par with football. Their fundamental allegiance may be to Ireland or Jamaica, split between several locations; often unrelated to the place where they live and whose laws they obey. A gay couple, Simon and Jacques who happen to be living in London at present, seem to regard Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, as in effect a distant London suburb, which they might choose to live in next since property prices are less than outer London. Marcia may go to a Catholic instead of a Pentecostal church because it is closer to her house, probably to the consternation of both branches of Christianity. People confound the rules of social science and more importantly this doesn’t seem to matter much.
But is the alternative actually liberalism which fetishised the individual as against society? Is the alternative to society isolated individuals, defined through choices – whether of commodities or of a political party? Liberalism is also an ideology constructing the individual as the other to society; the individual representing a fundamental unit, the basic point of reference as opposed to God or society. In different ways, sociologists such as Nicholas Rose (1989), anthropologists such as Marilyn Strathern (1992) and philosophers such as Charles Taylor (1989) have explored the history of individualism and its consequences. But my evidence no more supports a belief in individuals than a belief in society. Most people regard being solely an individual as, largely speaking, a failure in life. There are some individuals in The Comfort of Things, such as Aidan the exhibitionist, for whom life as an individual is the project to which they devote themselves. Some of the younger participants, end to espouse individualism, at least in practice, while breaking away from their family. But, later on, most people seem to be individuals by default rather than by design. Many, treasure some limited autonomy, but otherwise individualism is most fully equated with loneliness and a lack of relationships. The extreme cases tend to be elderly men
Suppose we put to one side this dualism of society and the individual and instead turn to the people of this London street and ask them what matters in their lives, we would hear a surprisingly uniform response. It would focus upon whether or not they experienced a number of significant and fulfilling relationships. So I propose that we respect their insight, and also focus on such core relationships. When they say this they mainly have I mind relationships with other people. Their desire for good relationships with children, parents the wider family, with lovers or spouses (sometimes lovers and spouses), with colleagues and with good and true friends. With some aspiration to the ethics of wider collectivities such as the nation, a work place, the environment (or at least a football team). But there is another set of relationships which are not explicit but emerge through my decision to study them; their relationships with objects. An approach based on a dialectical theory explicated elsewhere (Miller 2009) in which material objects are viewed as an integral and inseparable aspect of all relationships. People exist for us in and through their material presence. An advantage of this unusual perspective is that sometimes these apparently mute forms can be made to speak more easily and eloquently to the nature of relationships than can those with persons.
Sharon, for example, started out with certain key strategies designed to repudiate her parents. Her mother spent ages looking feminine or glamorous before even going out to the shops. Sharon, by contrast, played with the boys and ended up a champion body-builder. On the other hand the fact that she was the youngest and smallest in her class, could also explain the emphasis on strength and size. We could see the relationship to her parents therefore as completely incidental or essentially formative to her adoption of body-building. But most likely it is precisely because of the conjuncture of the two factors that this life trajectory become sustained. Most of what people come to be in life, seems in our material to be overdetermined, but meaning here simply multiply caused, not necessary its technical use by Freud or Althusser.
Sharon also hated the way her parents hoarded and collected things. She notes for them it was security while for her it is clutter. But then Sharon’s life fell apart. She went through an appalling divorce after which her ex-husband either stole or destroyed her possessions. She ended up homeless, without work, living on the street with her baby. For three months she camped outside the local government offices, until eventually she was re-housed. Under these conditions, aspects of her parent’s lives that she had repudiated came back to her as an integral part of herself. She started hoarding things, conscious now of the fragility of possession. Today she moves furniture and other things around her flat almost daily to confirm that has returned to control over her own house. Yet she has successfully returned to the education she originally missed out on because of dyslexia to the extent that she is now a professional who trains social workers. Unusually for a social worker Sharon still does body-building and works at night as a bouncer that is someone who expels undesirables from clubs. She still refuses to engage with the kind of glamour she repudiated early on. She recalls a vision that took place when she was nine years old of a much older woman, dressed in pink and with pink lipstick and orange blusher. She claims this led to her sustained aversion to women dressing younger than their age. The vision fits her current condition, her daughter is now nine and Sharon is terrified about her dressing in sexually provocative ways.
This structure or order to her life has two main dimensions. The first is vertical and corresponds to a study of how events or circumstances build a narrative that is commonly first explicated around the relation to parental influence. This logic of biographical narrative is not simply a sequence of events, it is also in part an accounting for that order, as one thing literally leads to another. Whenever a person says this thing happened and then they did that, we have responsibility to decide the degree to which they are implying the cause of what they then did or became. This vertical dimension is cross cut by a horizontal dimension which is the logic, what Bourdieu (1977) referred to as the homologies, between different areas of practice. This leads us to ask to what degree we can explain someone’s way of dealing with one area of their life by virtue of its consistency with what otherwise might seem an entirely unrelated part of their life. The way they relate to their work sometimes seems reminiscent of the way they relate to lovers, or collections of glass.
Finally one of the features that defines what we mean by `modern’ lives is the degree of conscious reflection. We might quote the sociologist Giddens (Giddens 1991) on the way people try and keep order in their narrative of their past as a means of legitimating their present. But then so could Sharon. She has probably read Giddens. But such academic accounts often assume that this self-consciousness creates in some measure a less immediate or authentic relationship to ourselves. A more abstract, or ironic distancing, such that we could be said to be acting ourselves. But I saw no evidence that having read Giddens would lead Sharon to distance herself from her own behaviour, any more than traditional rationalisation or legitimation of behaviour. The fact that she can explain the relationship between constantly moving furniture around and the way it clears her head, in much the same way as we would explain it, doesn’t seem to diminish one iota the efficacy of her action in actually moving furniture or her need to do it. Just as her knowledge of why people need to hoard, that she describes as irrational, didn’t at all save her from needing to hoard when her own circumstances fitted her theory of hoarding.
Malcolm’s work fluctuates between Australia and the UK, but what he understands as his permanent address is his email, and the nearest thing to home is his laptop. Both his friendships and his work are largely organized by email, a place he constantly orders, returns to, cares for, and where in many respects `his head is’. But to understand the intensity of this relationship to his laptop, we need to read the anthropologist Fred Myers (1986). Because, Myers notes, that for many Aboriginal groups there is a tradition of avoiding the physical possessions of the deceased. Malcolm’s mother was Australian Aboriginal and most of her possessions were indeed destroyed at her death. But he took from her a mission to locate and preserve the history of his family, including those once taken away from their parents. As he sees it, too much Aboriginal history is viewed as lying in police records, he wants a proper archive he will deposit in an Australian State archive.
Malcolm has an antipathy to things. He has given most of his inherited or childhood objects away. In his devotion to immateriality he prefers anything digital. He is getting into digital photographs, he downloads music and immediately throws out the covers. Very unusually for the street he even gives away his books after he has read them. One could relate this to his mobility, one could relate it to his interest in the potential of new technologies, one could relate it to this Aboriginal inheritance. There is more. His father sold antiques but the result was that at soon as he started becoming attached to things in his childhood, they would be sold, another possible source of his detachment from things. Once again then his personal habitus (Bourdieu 1977) is overdetermined. Even he can’t decide how much his mobility is cause and effect. But the overall result as he puts it is that `I think I’ve set myself up to be out of touch with objects and things, so there’s probably something psychological behind that.’ He has a more ambiguous relation to less tangible things like documents; sorting both his mothers and his own things into neat box files. But his real identification is with digital forms. He constantly updates and sorts his emails which becomes the updating of his social relationships. In going through them he recalls all those friends he owes emails to.
One could try and stretch the Aboriginal inheritance. The laptop as a kind of digital dreamworld that connects current relationships with those of the dead, a place he comes in and out of, as more real than merely real life. He retains this intense concern with lineage devoting much of his time to creating order out of kinship history. He seems obsessed that if he were to die, that thanks to constantly sorting his emails, he would leave a legacy that was archived and up to date, so no one would have to do the work he did recovering and ordering his ancestral lives. But for my purpose what he typifies is firstly the multiple determination of his cosmology. Both father, mother and his work come together as possible explanations. One could not claim to have predicted him, but given what we now know, this relationship to his laptop that at first seemed so bizarre, can certainly make sense. It is an aesthetic, a material cosmology. One can see how the horizontal dimensions of order merge with vertical, the overdetermination in his background.
People’s lives are anything but consistent. Quite the contrary the juxtapositions of influences both past and present are quite bewilderingly mixed. But as with parents understanding children, a consistency appears in retrospect between the influences that are picked up on because they are compatible with present orders. The vertical is made consistent with the horizontal. We can observe this at any stage in life. As in the case of Peggy who drops a whole slew of childhood influences and brings to the foreground a completely different set when her life changes at 60.
Today she would emphasis the significance of movement during her early childhood, the fact that her family lived in several different countries when she was a child. Yet for most of her life these early childhood experiences were pretty irrelevant and by no means dominated the way she behaved. It is only now in her 60s that everything gets reconfigured. She and her partner Cyril both had previous marriages and very different lives. But once they discovered each other they found a happiness and compatibility beyond anything they could have imagined. It is now in this new relationship that things about her background that previously were important because they gave her stability in difficult times and relationships can be safely disregarded, while earlier childhood influences become the source of a quite profound freedom that these sixty year olds experience. They have become part of a kind of cruise society whose primary interest is in how many places they can see in the world before they are too old to continue the quest. They have a fantastic new set of relationships across the world, with people constantly coming to stay in London and they staying in turn in far flung lands. This is helped by the way they have consolidated their relationship with their own descendents, obligations they restrict to within a niche of time that doesn’t much detract from their cruising. What they demonstrate is that, contrary to most psychology, a relationship at 60 may be just as formative as a relationship at 6.
There is an important contrast between Malcolm and Peggy. In the case of Peggy her relationship to objects and to the order of objects was essentially subservient to her relationship to particular people, everything has changed because of her meeting Cyril. But that is not true of Malcolm. He may well have entirely fulfilling relationships with people, but one senses an overriding concern with the way he needs to order his relationships to things, even if it is immaterial and digital forms intended to repudiate objects per. se. Actually people, especially the deceased become objects which need to be ordered as other objects. There is no sense in trying to privilege persons or objects on this street. The determinant relationship might be to a partner or parent, but it might be to cruising or clubbing or cars.
The mini analytical portraits I present here derive mostly from recording objects around the house or discussing them and their associated memories. We did not collect biographical narratives as such. It is my analysis that concludes that Peggy would have regarded a completely different set of earlier events as formative if we had met her at a different stage in her life. So although I am trying to construct explanations that would make sense to these participants they are not necessarily their own ways of accounting for their actions and possessions.
Nevertheless it often helps to start by focusing on parental socialisation. Because however complex that relationship, and we find it just as rich and contradictory as that revealed in the psychoanalytical literature, it follows from the logic of vertical development that in some ways the relationship to one’s parents is actually one’s simplest ever relationship. Because all subsequent relationships include the contingency of the way they inflect prior relationships. Initially what is most common is both the systematic repudiation or systematic reproduction of parental models.
Take, for example, Marina’s relation to MacDonald’s Happy Meals. For six years she took her three children every week to MacDonalds to eat a Happy Meal and keep the toys produced in series that came free with them. If going on holiday she tried to make sure she went to the MacDonalds at the airport so as not to miss out on the series as a whole. She is lyrical in her praise for both the toys and the place. She says `I just think they are incredibly well made, such beautiful things and their free, you get them with the meal. They are mass produced to an exceptionally high standard.’ She also harps on about MacDonalds itself, their baby changing facilities, the way they encouraged breastfeeding, how she got to know the personnel, the reliability of their food, which she also claims is healthier than alternatives.
Why? Firstly it turns out that Marina like Sharon repudiates her parents through becoming a tomboy and then in her case training in engineering. Her parents were brought up in the colonial office in Africa, but without quite enough money to live up to their class pretensions. She feels she was neglected, given over like the other kids, to their African nannies, but carefully trained to make sure they only ever said lavatory, never toilet. So at one level McDonalds is a repudiation of these class pretensions, of parents who would never go to McDonalds, but who treated their children so coldly. But there is more. These six years were sandwiched between this conflict with parents who she stopped speaking to and the recent unemployment of her husband which means that while working she never has enough time to spend with her children. The McDonalds period was the only time that wasn’t either alienated from the past or from the present.
Taking her kids to Macdonalds including the half hour playing with the new toys, was for her almost the only moment of pure indulged motherhood, away from competing domestic tasks. These were precisely Happy Meals where her children learnt, to care about, systematically collect, develop imagination and create perfect moments of family life. All her precise memories of her children’s development are associated with obtaining specific toys which still today come out as collections in the summer. McDonalds Happy Meals became an aesthetic totalisation of her existence. She is delighted that her children are regaling us with detailed stories evoked by these toys while we are sitting having tea. As such she exemplifies these same themes of overdetermination, an aesthetic and verticality.
Although for convenience I am often referring to individuals, actually the unit is commonly dyadic. Peggy makes no sense without Cyril, Malcolm without his laptop. With James and Quentin a gay couple of thirty years standing, each exists largely in relation to the other. James may have failed in his arts career, but his charming juxtaposition of ornaments and other possessions, his aesthetic based on creative disorder prevents Quentin from becoming enslaved to his own skilled use of memory and order. What determines each are the needs of the other.
Even when it comes to reproduction or repudiating parents the unit need not be an individual. Another house consists of four 20 and 30 something’s. They are typical post-university, completely unrelated, tenants. Yet they only make sense when taken as a collective. Each has issues and problems they have had to face up to, some deep and difficult. In response to this fragility, although without partners and children, they are all to some degree desperate to get back to the kinds of order and comfort represented by their original middle class homes. In their collectivity of tennis, gardening or wine tasting they can construct what they need, which is the reproduction of the firmer foundations of their earlier life, in many ways making themselves appear more like fifty or sixty year olds. But they cannot do this without the support of the others in that same household.
For anthropologists the vertical dimension is often anyway best seen more generically as background rather than just as parents. Take for example Marcia. One might look at her living room absolutely stuffed with ornaments and see this as her Caribbean inheritance. But such Caribbean displays that I studied in Trinidad and Jamaica tend to be full of objects that speak to close relationships; educational certificates or presents from grandchildren. On close inspection Marcia has no ornaments at all that speak to the existence of her husband, son or grandchildren. This turns out to be in part because certain early influences of her respectable mother, a schoolteacher, and the self-reliance that came with poverty. A set of cultural rather than simply parental ways of being. The problem is that these cultural rules such as respectability which worked well in a Caribbean context were much less helpful to her in the isolation of South London and led to a defensive rejection of accepting anything from relationships and only integrating that which she obtained for herself. The problem for Marcia was that being rigidly true to her Caribbean roots ended up as tragically limiting when no longer in the Caribbean, because what would have confirmed her as a matriarch in the Caribbean left her completely isolated in the very different context of South London.
The horizontal dimension complements the vertical. At any given point of time what I am calling there the aesthetic by which I mean an individual habitus, is distributed through a series of relationships that may be homologous or systematically contradictory. Genres such as accumulated collections of ornaments, the friends one goes drinking with, holidays, or neighbours. I will take just one example, the exploitation of the spatial order represented by the house itself. The kind of normative structure that Bourdieu presents to us of the Kabyle house, here becomes the often ad hoc aesthetic of particular houses which are ordered in relation to diverse practices.
Di, for example, like many others, wants to retain something of her parent’s possessions as memories, but doesn’t want these to undermine the autonomy she has carefully constructed for her own life. So when they move house she takes certain things, but keeps them today, not in the house, but in her garden shed. The shed is both near enough and far enough to exemplify the place in her life she wants her parents to inhabit. This matters because the most consistent relationship she has cultivated in her life is to the house itself. Starting from her hippy days the house became the repository of ethnic paraphernalia that stands also for her liberal attitudes reflected today by her working with immigrant children. Even her husband at their divorce knew he could not ask for things from this, their once shared, house. The house is full of her emotional repertoire. It has places to cry in, to have great sex in. She can look at a wall of tickets to rock gigs she has been to. But it’s also her logistical base, without children, the object of her practice of care. The house links the very particular schema of emotions and pragmatism that is Di’s aesthetic form.
A more extreme example comes when a house objectifies the values of its inhabitants with unrelenting aesthetic consistency. Designers whose house is a shrine to their cosmology. The house that proclaims there is no colour but cream. The house whose doctrine is that objects must express dynamism not become museums. So on the wall are not pictures as in other houses but clothes hung as decorations, which can be changed over time. Thirty pairs of jeans are carefully ordered according the precise degree of wash, fade and distressing. A similarly overt cosmology is evident when one walks into a Feng Shui house. It speaks to a life that insists no sentiment or other interest can disrupt the tyranny of calm order. Gifts from relatives, indeed all gifts are carefully stowed away in unseen cupboards or given away. Light, the sound of fountains, rock and wood, all where they should be. Consistency resolving contradiction. This Feng Shui is just as important as an antidote to his wife’s stressful work as a management consultant as it is to his own work as an acupuncturist with an Eastern spiritual inflection.
The approach taken to these people is derived not from psychology, but from the way an anthropologist would present a society. For example, an anthropologist who conducted exemplary work on material culture was Annette Weiner. In Inalienable Objects (1991) Weiner discusses a wide range of Maori objects, some of very general significance, some quite specific (Wiener 1991: 54-62). She explores their different capacity of bones, stones and cloaks to represent the inalienable. Cloth, being ambiguous in its symbolism as a second skin, is good for mediating the transition from human to larger cultural reproduction. Henare (2005) describes Maori weaving ancestors together. This contrasts with the inalienability that might be suggested in stone. Objects may also represent an individual chief or warrior, have individual names, or be buried with a particular person. So the term society may indicate the greater authority of social hierarchy, chiefly power, or the authority of the sacred, but it can also connote a commitment to one relationship. (Weiner 1991: 54).
This has resonance with my material from South London. On a bookshelf lies grandfather’s tin from the First World War. By now though this tin simultaneously represents, the specific grandfather, England and history itself. A ring is felt to be inalienable because of the deep love between one’s parents, but also for the importance of love in general. A clock from one’s grandparent’s farm stands for roots in the countryside as well as them specifically. A print of one of the hero’s of the IRA also stands for one’s specific Irish roots within this cosmopolitan, but possibly hostile, social environment. Inalienability tends to pass within family when man asks his wife to wear something he inherited from his grandmother.
All of this is as you might expect. But here, as with the Maori, people also create whole genres of the inalienable. An aesthetic that totalises their lives on a par with social cosmology. Charlotte has systematically carried out a very large number of piercings followed by a series of tattoos, and simultaneously developed a clear philosophy of how these acts of self-construction contribute to her understanding but above all her control over her own life. She exemplifies both the vertical and horizontal dimensions. The vertical dimension starts once again from her relationship to her mother. This is not a simple repudiation, it was her mother’s friend who first introduced her to piercing at the age of eleven. But she then appropriates this as a means of distancing. For example when her mother said - ‘oh but your just trying to be the same as everyone else’ she responded by searching out the most extreme and different piercings that for her said, (her words), ‘I’ve got a piercing, but not because everyone else has that, but because nobody does, actually’.
From this came her desire to establish complete mastery over memory itself. She established a fictive relationship to her past. Although born in London she associates herself completely with the country of origin of her lover. She has mastered the accent, had a flat built for her to move to when she has qualified, and was already tattooing designs from that country before ever visiting it. As a lesbian she also feels that her sexuality is something she chooses and controls. Control for her means objectifying memory as a thing one can choose to attach or detach from the self. Every piercing represents a specific memory. Life consists of accumulating happy memories that are objectified in this way, So even if she is embarrassed by chasing boy bands as a teenager the memorabilia is retained as something happy at the time. Key piercings and then tattoos represent her best relationships.
With regard to the horizontal, Charlotte, just as Weiner or the Maori, carefully considers the precise materiality of each genre within which memory can be objectified. There is clothing she can throw away. Piercings have a potential transience, for example, when she moved to another part of London she says, (her words) `I took out a lot of my bottom rings, so at that stage, and I think that was probably because I had left a lot of rubbish and a lot of people that were not doing me any good, like old memories behind, so I didn’t need it any more.’. Abandoned rings from piercings are kept in a box, photographs of piercings and tattoos on her back allow her to recall a memory, but can’t be as easily accessed as those she can look at when on the move. The placing matters, as with nipple piercing viewed the position closest to her heart. Each material form is used to extend and complement the others.
It is the tattoos that establish the full possibilities of the inalienable. They ensure that memories of the best relationships can never be excised. These include her relationship to the tattooist, a close friend who is practicing on Charlotte to obtain her professional qualification. Also her relationship to her lover through having identical tattoos. The memory is precise. Unlike others she will never have supplementary tattooing since this blurs the relationship to the particular time the tattoo was created. As with Weiner she works out a material technology of inalienable memory. She can’t understand people who tattoo for pattern itself rather than to establish the inalienable. She starts from an awareness of people such as her grandfather who lived to regret the tattoos of her youth, yet now has the complete confidence in her current total leg tattooing. She does understand the logic of those who tattoo a cross for a deceased love one, but remains consistent to her own systematic accretion of happy memories and relationships. Charlotte is not then just another person who does piercings and tattoos. In her early twenties she has a systematic cosmology of memory and objectification that is analogous with the way a society creates cosmologies of memory and objectification. At both levels we can study how the vertical relationships of time cross cut the organisational horizontal relationships of space and specific material genre.
Such relationship rarely link directly to modern states and political economy, a financial crisis may barely impinge upon the relative autonomy of such cultural creativity. We merge cultural and parental influences, normative social orders and other ingredients, adding others as we go along. Such households may combine people from different points of origin or with very different concerns and tastes. They become more like societies creating cosmology more or less linked to wider religious and cultural norms. These are not, however, fragmented individuals but people who strive to create relationships to both people and things which give order, meaning and often moral adjudication to their lives; an order which, as it becomes familiar and repetitive, may also be a comfort to them. I have called this order an aesthetic, although it often remains tentative, contradictory, multiple and constantly changing. But then this is true, if on a different scale, of larger cosmologies and aesthetic orders, such as society or religion.
So the conclusions of this chapter are not intended to support either the ideology of the liberal market nor its critics. Instead it shows the consequences of modern consumption within the heterogeneity and diversity of London households. A previous London street study (Miller 1995) examined quite the opposite phenomenon. Demonstrating extraordinary generalisations about contemporary Londoners even those who have migrated to London quite recently. A ritual structure to shopping that applied to more or less anyone. Similarly Murray (2009) working in Madrid, which is just as much as modern capital city as London, found a remarkable degree of homogeneity at this same level of household order. London happens to possess this heterogeneity, that is not my main point. Rather whether in conditions of diversity or similarity, people are engaged not as individuals, and not with society, but as a point within a network of core relationships. As such the study of consumption needs to repudiate these academic foundations and come closer to that which matters most to the people we study.
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 Much of the content of this chapter is derived from two previous publications, Miller 2007 and Miller 2008.