This essay will focus on the social science argument of how inequality constraints a consumer society. Firstly, a consumer society is best defined as a way in which a society buys and sells goods and makes use of services to satisfy an individual need. Secondly, inequality can be defined as an unjust situation in society where everyone has different opportunities. Some have more, and some have less than others and how these are unevenly distributed. Furthermore, I will give points and explain how these two definitions crossover and using evidence from the module materials to back the idea and argument that inequality does constrain a consumer society. I will give points firstly on life chances, explaining how inequality shapes life chances and therefore consumption. I will then move on to explain how supermarkets play a huge role in inequality and consumerism. I will also discuss Zygmunt Bauman’s idea that a customer society is associated with new forms of inequality. Finally concluding with how all these points of inequality constraint and control a consumer society.
The concept of life chances is a combination of things you can do and things that society can offer, opportunities everyone has in a day to day life that can either improve or worsen their quality of life. The unequal distribution of resources in society affects how we consume. Some people have the means to consume whereas others do not. Life chances are shaped by inequalities in wealth, power, status and income. They are affected by social factors such as class, gender, and ethnicity. Individuals or groups that are in a higher class and therefore have more access to finances tend to have a better quality of life. They can consume more and have access to more things such as healthcare and education. ‘the inability to consume can also tell us much about the distribution of life chances in society: this is, who does and who does not have the means to consume’ (Hetherington and Havard, P121, 2017A) People on a low income, for instance, do not have the ability to consume the same way people do who are on higher income because of this inequality it controls the way we consume as a society.
Over the years society has changed from a post-industrial society to a consumer society but people’s ability to consume is different which in turn creates inequality amongst everyone, it has created new social divisions and new forms of inequality. People are still consuming even if they cannot afford it, so they get loans or credit. They are still wanting to be socially accepted and participate in the social norm of consumption which differs from essentials and luxuries depending on an individual’s outlook. ((Figure 5.1, ONS, 2012) Heatherington and Havard, p123 2017B) The data shown in this graph collected by the office for national statistics show the average weekly expenditure of a household. As you can see on a weekly basis each household spends an average of 62 pounds a week on housing, fuel and power and recreation and culture, although recreation and culture are luxuries not essentials, therefore, the consumption of necessities are not always seen as a priority.
If we look at Zygmunt Bauman’s argument towards the consumer society, he has divided people into two different groups. The ‘seduced’ meaning the people or groups today that can participate in consumption. They are people that are valued and are typically a higher class due to their finances. The ‘repressed’ meaning people or groups in society that are limited to what they can achieve. They have limited life chances. People that are typically unemployed, migrants or people that are unable to participate today, older people or people with disabilities. Looking at these two different groups of people that Bauman has divided society into we can see that inequality is more focused on the repressed. These people may not have chosen to have the life they live. Why would someone choose to have a disability, or to be poor? Isn’t it everyone’s achievement to be well off or live comfortably. These are the things that show us that inequality does constraint a consumer society. Some people do not have a choice, their choices are limited therefore their life chances are limited which means that they cannot consume or participate in consumption the same way as someone who is well off. They are an outcast in the society which is why people get finance or credit. ‘They wanted the things they bought to make a positive impression and to demonstrate to others their newly acquired wealth and rising status within society’ (Heatherington and Havard, P132, 2017C) Wealthy people buy things. They consume, they participate which is what is a social norm, they have access to goods, services and anything they desire because they have a choice to do that, control is theirs for the taking. Poorer people do not have this luxury, Inequalities of the uneven distribution of wealth controls this factor. But these people do not want to be outcasts and want to be socially accepted they want to fit in, impress their peers. Although people do get credit and finances, it only goes so far and not everyone cannot be obtained by everyone. ‘The inability to consume is thought to erode the self-confidence of such individuals, melting their self-esteem in the process. In that respect, the temptations of the consumer market only serve to reinforce this hopelessness’ (Heatherington and Havard, P141, 2017D) moving on, the power of the Uk high street and supermarkets have their own ranges of inequality.
Looking at supermarkets ‘just over three in every four pounds are spent on food and groceries in the UK’ ((Karter worldwide 2013) Allen, P151, 2017A) there is excessive consumption happening within supermarkets in a sense they are the controllers of the grocery market giving very little choice over where to shop they basically dictate our shopping habits because of how large they have become. ‘Those with more power, like big supermarkets, make our lives less equal by always getting their own way over those with fewer resources’ (Allen, P153, 2017B) Supermarkets have market power. They can act, control and dictate the marketplace in ways their competition can do nothing or little about. Supermarkets use this power to their advantage to trade unfairly. They can sell goods below cost, unlike most high street traders. therefore, people on a low income will shop at the supermarkets and not the highs street butchers, for instance, to purchase their meat because the supermarkets are cheaper, doing this puts a strain on the local businesses and sometimes forces them to close. Supermarkets use bargaining power to get these low prices from the food, clothing and farm manufacturers. Inequality affects the workers who produce these products for supermarkets. The ones working in the Uk are usually migrant workers and are low paid to work in bad conditions. The workforce overseas faces the same inequalities but at a much higher level. (Dying for a Bargain, open university 2017) The video shows the impact that cheap clothing and working conditions overseas workers face on a day to day basis. Supermarkets using these suppliers gives the ability to sell goods at low prices. Supermarkets are therefore gaining from prices being kept low in a zero-sum game showing that these controls supermarkets have over society and inequality does constraint to the consumer world.
In Summery all the factors set out in this essay, life chances where people don’t all have the same and the inequalities people face impact on a much larger scale, but this is not down to choice. Zygmunt Bauman’s argument shows how inequalities divide society and again this is not a choice, people are not getting the choice or freedom that is being publicized. Supermarkets are clearly the main culprits of inequality within working in the Uk and overseas, inequality is everywhere, close to home and the other side of the world showing that it does constraint a consumer society.