Geographies of Consumption

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Juliana Mansvelt

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    Dedication

    For Laura and Hannah

    Preface

    Writing in: Fashioning Geographies of Consumption

    In reflecting on the diminishing numbers of surveys on consumption, Fine notes that the field has become too vast to cover: ‘In short, consumption is a moving, expanding and evasive target, especially in view of the array of the analytical weapons with which it has been assaulted’ (2002: 1). I'm glad I read Fine's quote near the end of the process of writing this book! In many ways in writing this book I feel I have been complicit in the production of a ‘God trick’, implicitly reconstructing myself as an all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent purveyor of things consumption. However, this survey of geographies of consumption is necessarily a partial and a situated one, informed not only by what I have read, but also by the multiple subject positions I occupy. I speak not from a placeless ‘nowhere’ but from somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ is located in my embodiment, my emplacement and my practice as a Pakeha New Zealander, geographer grappling with political economy and post-structural perspectives, a Christian, and a mother juggling work and family. Though I can reflect on my own positionality, I can never fully articulate it or know exactly how it affects the research endeavour (Rose, 1997). Nevertheless if reflexive accounts are ones in which ‘absences, fallibilities and moments are brought into visibility’ (Pratt, 2000: 651) then it remains important to signal something of the silences that have informed my thinking, doing and writing of this book.

    Discussing others’ research is an act of selective re-representation, a process of ‘writing in’ meaning (Berg and Mansvelt, 2000) which I am aware is framed largely around the hegemony of Anglo-American geography and the English language. As a New Zealander writing this text I was extremely conscious of the sheer abundance of North American and particularly British literature. While writing from New Zealand might reinforce this Anglo-American bias, I have included a number of New Zealand case studies not only because they are the spaces with which I engage most closely as a geographer, but because narratives from ‘the periphery’ can challenge and confront hegemonic geographies (Berg and Kearns, 1998). I have nevertheless tried to include a range of case studies reflecting different places, practices and ideas about consumption. Though shopping and retail geographies have been and remain critical to consumption as a subject of geographical research, a concern has been to broaden the focus of the book beyond this.

    This book discusses some of the fascinating research being conducted by geographers on consumption histories, spaces, connections, subjects, commercial cultures and moralities. In focusing on some key areas of geographies of consumption I am conscious that advertising and collective and institutional consumption have not been covered in depth, and research on cultural economy, rural spaces, services and geographies of work might also have been accorded more attention.

    That consumption is a complex field of social and spatial relations is a recurrent theme of the book. Consumption is constituted in contexts which are connected to other practices, processes and peoples. Much of the research outlined in this text demonstrates the inseparability of production and consumption, the economic and cultural and the symbolic and material. Many of the topics covered in this text – eating, shopping, home-making, tourism, music – may seem mundane, but it is in their taken-for-grantedness that power is most effectively manifest. Though I have drawn primarily on the work of geographers, the work of other social scientists and theorists has been included as it continues to enliven and inform geographies of consumption. Ultimately, this text has endeavoured to show how place matters in how consumption is created, manifested and experienced, and how consumption matters in how socialities, subjectivities and spatialities are constituted in place.

    My own personal challenge as a geographer remains to explore consumption in ways which are sensitive to the differences between people, processes and places and which enable people to relate the particular to the general in order to facilitate the meaningful negotiation of the material, symbolic, social and individual aspects of everyday life. Readers may laugh at the ideological, normative and impossible nature of such a task, but endeavouring to make a difference does not, and cannot, sit apart from my intellectual imaginings (informed as they are by the practices, connectivities and representations of others in place: see Gregson and Rose, 2000) or from my practice as a university geographer who teaches and does research. Somewhat ironically then, writing this book has simultaneously been a part of my own consumption of ‘the academy’ and a project of self-fashioning!

    Acknowledgements

    My sincerest thanks to Neil, Laura and Hannah for putting up with a wife and mother whose life has for some time revolved around writing ‘the book’. Thanks also, Neil, for the endless hours of proofreading! I am also indebted to Dad, Hanny, my family, my friends and my church family for supporting me, and for looking after the girls so I could have extra time to write. I am grateful to my colleagues for their encouragement, and for all the support I received from my Heads of School, previously Professor John Overton and currently Professor Mike Roche. Thanks also to the many people with whom I have had conversations about the book during its various stages, but particularly to Barbara Arnold, Richard Le Heron and Wendy Larner for their input into the final chapter. Special thanks to Olive Harris and Kelly Dombroski for the considerable amount of time taken in compiling the references for this book, and to David Feek for tracking many of them down. Financial assistance from the Massey University Research Fund and a Massey University Women's Research Award enabled me to complete this book. I appreciate so much the advice, assistance and patience of Robert Rojek and David Mainwaring, editors at Sage Publications. To the anonymous reviewer of the book, thank you for your helpful comments. To Rachael Newman who always encouraged and kept me sane while writing this – I am forever grateful!

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