Consumer Culture and The Presentation of Self in modern society

Consumer culture has begun to dominate society in recent times largely due to the ever increasing availability of commercial goods. Dick Hebdige’s view that consumer culture is ‘active in the ascription of meaning to consumer goods’ reflects a view that we as a general public look for ways to show our own allegiance to our values and beliefs as individuals, his example of the punk safety pin shows how minority groups or ‘subcultures’ can take objects and make them take on a new semantic meaning personal to that particular group. His view that the purchase of material goods allowing the self to be reflexively constructed in dialogue with the meaning of objects shows more clearly how as we change as individuals this then has an impact on our identity as consumers, this has then sparked a multitude of subcultures all finding an identity in objects.

“objects borrowed from the most sordid of contexts found a place in the punk’s ensembles: lavatory chains were draped in graceful arcs across chests encased in plastic bin-liners. Safety pins were taken out of their domestic ‘utility’ context and worn as gruesome ornaments through cheek, ear or lip” (Hebdige, 1979, 1067) – In more modern times I can relate this to the ‘hipster’ culture students and young adults are immersed in, this largely revolves around branding –  ‘The Cambridge Satchel Company’ quickly became ‘the’ satchel company, starting modestly inside a country home in Cambridge, becoming a multi-million pound business due to this fixation adopted by individuals wanting to ‘fit into’ a certain subculture. This story has been replicated thousands of times, ‘Beats’ by Dr Dre being another company who also quickly became ‘the’ headphones to wear to ‘fit in’ with popular culture, this being despite many reviews online critically slating the headphones for poor build quality with a sky-high price point.

Erving Goffman looks closer into the ‘presentation of self’ in everyday life – he analyses the difference between ‘presentation’ and ‘life’, I feel there are similarities here with how we as individuals can use brands to change ourselves from ‘average’ or ‘plain’ to ‘interesting’ and ‘popular’ with the purchase of a branded item, in turn presenting yourself in a way you may deem as acceptable according to the values and beliefs you uphold.

I feel in society today there is a morbid emphasis on what is right and wrong when it comes to what we see as popular and cool, I wish to address this in my project and help the audience see and observe just how integrated the ‘branding’ culture is within how we think as nations with the aim of encouraging people to think (what I see as more logically) about their own consumer habits.


Goffman, E, 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. United States: Anchor Books. (accessed – 5th December 2014)

Hebdige, D, 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Rutledge. (accessed 5th December 2014)


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