The “Subjectivity Kits” and the Logic of “Human having”: A Psychosocial View on Consumption by the Advertisement
Giselle Gama Torres Ferreiraα, Fred Tavaresσ & Rosa Vargasρ
This essay investigates the consumption thematic within the realm of publicity under a psychosocial perspective, through the concepts of “liquid modernity” (Zygmunt Bauman) and society of control (Gilles Deleuze), unveiling the liquid, plastic, fluid and mutable subjectivity of the consumer in a globalized context of a society where “having” is more valued than “being”. The methodology reflects a qualitative study, of an exploratory character, based in theoretical foundation and illustrating the above mentioned concepts through the analysis of an advertise- ment product. The results show that the logic of consumption operates, in advertisement, by the production of a fluid way of being of the consumer’s subjectivity, a consumer who is avid for authenticity/difference, and by the conception of the consumption’s inclusion as a strategy of psychosocial belonging.
Keywords: consumption; advertisement; psychosociology; liquid modernity.
In the context of the consumer society, a core question gets into this analysis, facing post- modernity, and a consumer whose identity is plural, mutable, fragmentary and flâneur, the psychosocial approach contributes to understand this individual who chooses commercial brands as a belonging strategy, through revocable, temporary and floating identities.
The present work investigates the consumption relations in “liquid modernity” – post- modernity (BAUMAN, 2001), through the psychosocial bias, unveiling the liquid, plastic, fluid and mutable subjectivity of the consumer, in a globalized context of a society of control where “having” is more important than “being”. In order to reflect about consumption through the psycho- sociological field, it is taken as illustration the analysis of advertising that supports this discussion.
On this path, how to put into question the consumption study through psychosociology, under the perspectives of “liquid modernity” and society of control, in the production of a rhizomatic, plural, fragmented, schizophrenic and anthropophagic subjectivity, entrenched by desire of consuming itself, conceiving “subjectivity kits” and deconstructing prêt-à– porter identities as ways of being which are regulated by the advertising market, according to the “to be, it is necessary to have” logic?
To answer this question, the essay adopts, as a complementary theoretical approach, authors and works that dialogue with the defined object, through the conceptual bias established for investigation. It consists, thus, in a qualitative study, of exploratory character, which is based in theoretical foundation and documental content.
This work uses as an investigative methodology the exploratory research, through bibliography survey by works that cut out the study object. Departing from the theoretical foundation of the “liquid modernity” concepts, society of control and subjectivity production, it is proposed the conceptual categories of: identity, subjectivity, belonging and “ways of being” and it is used the analysis of advertising products with the aim of puncturing and illustrating the theoretical assertion, as done by Tavares (2005). The two chosen advertising pieces come from companies “Natura” (Image 01 – Veja Magazine, Edition 2506, Year 49, n. 48, 30.11.2016) and “O Boticário” (Image 02 – Veja Magazine, Edition 2475, Year 49, n. 17, 27.04.2016). Veja Magazine is a general facts publication of highest circulation in Brazil according to IVC1. Natura is the first brand to use the social-environmental approach in the consumption products segment in Brazil and occupies the first place in the research Top of Mind in the year of 2015, in category Environment, done by Folha de São Paulo newspaper. This research is done in Brazil, has national range and investigates the consumption behavior through a ranking of the most remembered brands by the consumers. “O Boticário” is Natura’s main competitor (FOLHA DE SÃO PAULO; TAVARES & IRVING, 2009).
1 Instituto Verificador de Comunicação (Communication Verifier Institute)
THE PSYCHOSOCIOLOGY FIELD
To understand the idea of consumption through an interdisciplinary approach that is able to reflect the plastic subjectivity of contemporary consumer, the psychosociology is a good clue. Thus, the proposed dimension, here, is the social psychology as the episteme that, in post- modernity, allows the explanation of the mutable behavior of a subject, whose consumption is expressed in a psychosocial form.
“Liquid modernity” can be considered a background that manages the psychosocial vectors. Subjectivity, under this prism, is regulated by the social symbolic system, which comes from the realm of collective, and the urge and individual aspects, both in “liquid state”. When it comes to a mobile subjectivity, it finds in the desire of consumption the perpetuation of its volatility and the consumption of commercial brands as alibi of this transformational nature, ephemeral (LIPOVETSKY, 1989, BITTEN- COURT, 2012), that represents and inscribes the subject in the brands civilization or in consumer society.
The psychosocial regard also contributed to the reflection on the continuous and unstoppable flux of commercial brands under the aegis of a rhizomatic capitalism (DELEUZE & GUATTARI, 1995; PELBART, 2003), which crosses and constructs the consumer’s imaginary, producing, continuously, the subjectivities, which are revocable, and liquid identities transformed by the desire and freedom of deconstructing oneself as a subject of consumption, fantasy and unfinished pleasure.
In regards to the volatility and instability, intrinsic to all, or almost all, identities is the capacity of “going shopping” in the identities supermarket, the degree of genuine, or supposedly genuine, freedom of selecting the own identity and maintaining it while one desire so, which becomes the true way to the achievement of identity fantasies. With this capacity, people are free to do and undo identities, as much as they wish. Or so it seems to be (BAUMAN, 2001).
Taking a further step into the reflection, what role does consumption play in the psychosocial context and in contemporary society?
V. CONSUMPTION IN THE “LIQUID MODERNITY”
Consumption, historically, represents one of the pillars of the foundation of the concept of society (BAUMAN, 1999, 2008). It has been expressed and interpreted expressed and interpreted in multiple dimensions, as, for example, the political, the economic, the psychological, the sociocultural, the environmental, among others (HARDT & NEGRI, 2001; CANCLINI, 1999; FEATHERSTONE, 1995; TAVARES & IRVING, 2005; 2006). Therefore, the importance of consumption has been discussed in the last decades, as a condition of the inter-relations between the individuals in society (BARBOSA, 2004; CAMPBELL, 2002).
Consumption produced political and social relations, creates cultural and symbolic bonds and, above all, produces subjectivities (TAVARES, 2004) and prêt-à-porter identities (SIBILA, 2002; ROLNIK in RAGO ET AL, 2005), in which social and psychic dimensions are built and crossed by the market nets.
To Bauman (1999), contemporary society is understood as a society of consumption, while modern society, in its founder or industrial phase, is considered a “society of producers”. According to the post-modern perspective, the author considers that present day society shapes its citizens to perform the consumer’s role. In other words, consumption starts to be seen beyond as a right or a pleasure, but also as a citizen’s duty.
However, another aspect to Bauman in the reflection on the analysis of society of consumption is the desire. Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen sum it up: “(...) desire does not desire satisfaction. Unlikely, desire desires desire” (apud BAUMAN, 1999, p.91). The perspective of dissipation of desire, of having nothing to resurrect it, or to be in a world with nothing desirable, is seen as a nightmare. This thought reminds to the idea of insatiability of desire.
In this society, the consumers are continuously exposed to new temptations, excited, and also in state of eternal and immediate dissatisfaction. Above that, consumers want to be seduced and be in charge: “They are the judges, the critics and the ones who choose” (BAUMAN, 1999, p.92). Consumption is a duty, a compulsion, an obsession.
In consumer society, few things are predeter- mined, and even fewer are irrevocable. Consumption is seen as ephemeral and fugacious. The political role of brands in this society is to not complete, not conclude, is to promote life under a compulsive eternal obsession for the most, the better, in an interrupted way (TAVARES, 2004). In this aspect, it is necessary: “(...) for the possibilities to remain infinite, none should be capable of petrifying itself in reality forever. It is better for them to remain liquid and fluid (BAUMAN, 2001).
Bauman (2008) also notes that the secret of the perpetual dissatisfaction of desire is the impetus to consumption, as well as the impulse to the freedom makes the satisfaction itself impossible. After all, the sense of freedom is infinite, and consumption operates in the pleasure of this individual choice.
The present day consumer presents different shopping behaviors, based in consumption styles. This lifestyle is sustained on the capacity and on the will of consuming as a free exercise of freedom, in which consumers feel they are in charge. Consumer society is based in the freedom of searching the pleasure and the desire, in the destiny and in the individual choices (BAUMAN, 2008; O'SHAUGHNESSY & O‟SHAUGHNESSY, 2002). Above all the desires, which are ephemeral, evasive, volatile and perpetual.
Contemporary consumerism, according to Bauman (2001), does not look for satisfaction of (solid, inflexible and finite) needs, but it is geared towards the desires: much more volatile, fluid, ephemeral and infinite. To the author, consuming becomes a compulsion, a post-modernity addiction. Therefore, “to want” is the release of the pleasure’s principle, as a motivating strength of consumption. “Life organized around the consumption (…) should be enough with no norms: it is oriented by the seduction, by the continuously growing desire and volatile wish (BAUMAN, 2001, p.90).
The consumer lives, then, in the pursue of a desire, in state of aptitude, with a flexible, compulsive, absorbent and adjustable body, ready for new sensations, in the pursue of pleasure, immersed in the uncertainty and insecurity (BAUMAN, 2001), consuming and being consumed, in a society of consumption and control.
SOCIETY OF CONTROL: BIOPOWER, CONSUMPTION AND SUBJECTIVITY
To reflect on the concept of society of control, it is important to depart from a genealogical point of view about the formation of society, based in Foucault’s Disciplinary Society, described in 1987 as the societal model comprehended between the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, reaching its apogee on the XXth century.
Deleuze, in Negotiations, affirms that: “Societies control are the ones who are replacing the disciplinary societies. ‘Control’ is the name that Burroughs proposes to designate the new monster, and that Foucault acknowledges as our near future” (DELEUZE,1992,p.220).
This “monster” emerges in opposition to the discipline, of which logic is based in the confinement, in the molds, in the idea that the individual holds a position in the mass, as a number or a signature. Disciplinary society portraits an environment in which the market is “(…) conquered either by specialization, by colonization, or by reduction of production costs” (DELEUZE, 1992, p.223). If, in discipline, capitalism is destined to the production, in control it is designated to the consumption (PONTES & TAVARES, 2014; TAVARES, 2014).
In order to understand the Society of Control, it is necessary to conceive her from a new power paradigm: Biopower. “Power is, therefore, expressed as a control that extends itself to the depth of consciousness and of the population’s bodies – and at the same time – through the totalities of social relations (HARDT, 2000; HARDT & NEGRI, 2001, p.43-44).
The logic of biopower is constituted similarly to an empire, like a new world order, generated in the capital’s assembly lines, in the transnational institutions and in the global market. In this sense, spaces are gradually obliterated, there is no “out” anymore, and consumption starts to regulate the social relations and life, which became object of power.
This Biopower performs an integrative and vital function that every individual incorporates and reactivates by its own will. The domesticated, tamed and useful bodies of discipline give place to the consumer, indebted souls of society of control, or, as Sibilia (2002, p.30) stresses, “from the disciplined producer to the controlled consumer”.
In the realm of “World Society of Control”, consumption becomes the device of post-modern social control that transnational companies start to adopt, through the brands and its production strategies of “ways of being”, articulating and reproducing the new social orders, mainly through advertisement (TAVARES, 2009).
Being so, society of control does not respond to the individual demands anymore, but it creates demands and markets, departing from its deep knowledge regarding the individuals. Man is not the confined man any longer, but the indebted man. And, by the intermedium of a frenetic consumption and the facility of contracting debt, man starts to value the consumption as a way of insertion and psychosocial belonging (FERREIRA, 2010), as observed in the production of the advertising discourse of brands (TAVARES, 2005).
From the control and its synoptic movement (BAUMAN, 1999), it is build a fluid and mutable society, in which brands and products are thought and produced, through the advertising strategy of biopower’s regime configuration (HARDT & NEGRI, 2001), which inscribes consumption as an inclusion phenomenon, in the logic of an empire, where there is no more separation between what is “in” or “out”.
If society of control represents the profile of contemporary society, it can be affirmed that “our society is a consumer society”. With this aphorism, Bauman (1999) depicts the global contemporaneity, described as “liquid modernity”, in which the act of consuming is the passport to belong to a social context and to have the consumer status assured.
Consumption is a way of social regulation of control, sublimating the idea that, to “be”, it is necessary to “have”. Opposite to that, there is nothing but the exclusion. Contemporary capitalism reaffirms this position, according to Deleuze (1992). Marketing is, thus, the instrument of social control to this aim.
In Deleuze’s perspective, society of control transforms consumption into a belonging “password”, in order to get “in”. In the post- modern world, there is no longer the dialectic between “inside” and “outside”. The notion of consumption implodes the separations between public and private. Everything is unified and diffuse, in a way that is impossible to distinguish the “in” from the “out”. It is also about looking at the transformation of the man into an indebted being, living in an eternal consumerist moratorium of brands and of new life styles, produced by the consumption logic of the world market. In the context of the advertising market, it creates ways of being as liquid and flexible identities.
FROM HUMAN BEING TO “HUMAN HAVING” AND THE LOGIC OF PRÊT-À-PORTER IDENTITIES
Contemporary capitalism, decentralized through its mobile and rhizomatic strategy (DELEUZE & GUATTARI, 1995), invades the drive and collective guts producing the idea that it is not about “being” anymore, but about “having”. The identity mutability refers to a mobile subjectivity (PRADO, 2012), regulated by consumption as a way of producing “ways of being”, through “prêt-à-porter identities” created by the market (SIBILIA, 2002).
Through Deleuze and Guattari perceptions, by the process of subjectivation, there is the intention of reflecting about the human being and his psychosocial and cultural transfor- mations, through a different approach: the “human having” one. Not as a metaphysical conception of human nature, but, above all, under a perspective of becoming, that is, in the fluidity and mutability of individual as a strategy of an identity virtuality.
Likewise, when focusing on Bauman’s thought (2001; 2005) in the context of consumer society, the debate on the identity question is amplified. The fixed and solid identities in modernity are replaced by the mobile and fluid identities of post-modernity. In a consumer society, individual freedom is the freedom of having an identity, or as Bauman points out (2001), is the power of having multiple identities, like a passport granted by the advertising communi- cation and its discursive logic (TAVARES, 2005; FERREIRA & TAVARES, 2016). In a world where everything is deliberately instable, identities are produced under the light of globalized capitalism. They are, thus, continuous oscillations, malleable by the freedom of individual choice, tensioned in the desire of consuming, regulated by the market, like “identities kits”.
Rolnik (2000) reaffirms Bauman’s regard and mentions that identities are reconfigured by the market logic and the global consumption, producing new consumption subjectivities.
Sibilia’s vision (2002) converges to Rolnik’s perspective when the former describes that these identities are managed according to the logic of “soft capitalism” (BAUMAN, 2001) or rhizomatic capitalism (DELEUZE & GUATTARI, 1995): “the illusion of a fixed stable identity, characteristic of modern industrial society, slowly gives place to the “kits of standard profiles” or “prêt-a-porter identities” ” (SIBILIA, 2002, p.33).
Therefore, these “prêt-à-porter identities” or “subjectivity kits” operate under the disposability regime. As Bauman highlights, (…) consumer market rejoices itself, filling sheds and shelfs with new symbols of original, teasing (…) disposed identities” (BAUMAN, 2005, p.88).
To the author, these identities represent lifestyle choices, being, then, a characteristic of consumer society, mediatized by advertisement. They are identities produced individual or collectively, regulated by consumption, as strategies psychosocial belonging, even though disintegrated, at every moment, by non-satisfied desires, in the “liquid modernity” society.
Going back to Deleuze and Guattari philosophy (1995), the comprehension on the concept of subjectivity can also be reflected as an anthropophagic principle, according to Rolnik, through which a hybrid constitution in individuation is observed, due to permanent agencement, individual collective and impersonal, under the prism of incorporation of someone else’s values.
The ephemeral and fragmented character of this subjectivity – and of its production – is notorious in the displacement of individuals, in the era of globalized and flexible capitalism, playing the commercial brands, for instance, a strategic role to function as a post-modern world control device, with the aim of sublimating the idea of the “other admired”, flowing in the field of immanence of a malleable and perversely unachievable desire, so well depicted in advertisement.
Advertisement is a sponsored message, transmitted in the communications media with the goal of advertising and selling an idea, a product of a service, under the commercial form, that goes for a certain target audience, through linguistic and stylistic discourses of seduction and persuasion, by the means of primarily emotional appeal (TAVARES, 2005).
The advertising appeal is funded in an euphoric and hedonist discourse (PINTO, 2002) that produces the “real”, through an ethical and aesthetical rhetoric that constructs psychosocial practices and ways of being and saying by the use of images that sell lifestyles and fabricate a pseudo-reality of belonging, for consumers that desire to be seduced (BAUMAN, 2001) and are under permanent “voluntary servitude” (QUESSADA, 2003) in a society of self- consumption.
The brand, through advertisement, contributes to produce the fluid subjectivity of consumer, through the creation of ideas and consumption values in a psychosocial manner. This plastic subjectivity is proportioned by a powerful marketing operation, which makes the individual believe that, “to be”, it is necessary to belong and consume, reconfiguring itself to diverse spaces and territories in the search of a circumstantial acceptance, under the condition of “human having”.
Tavares (2005) approaches the discourse in the advertisement field, highlighting:
“discourse is present in advertisement as an argumentative, persuasive and manipulative rhetoric under the textual forms, as well as a linguistic rhetoric, producing, distributing and consuming through a context, being constituted by sociocultural facts, and with a production of meaning that emerges from a shared common sense, that is, cognizable, between the parts (TAVARES, 2005, p.19).
The author (TAVARES, 2005) observes that the construction of discourse can occur through the using of elements already known by the public, contents shared by previous discourses, aiming to facilitate the message reception. It is also observed that this discourse can use the rhetoric of fantasy and illusion, since, in order to become an object of consumption, it is necessary for this object (brand) to become a sign, which is surrounded by magic and dream, feed by the advertisement.
Considering the concepts and categories previously enunciated, and departing from the observations made by Tavares (2005), we will begin to approach the construction of advertisement discourse taking for reference the propositions of identity, considering that
“the advertisement emphasize, magically, the meaning of a power that becomes legitimate by the order of a spectacle, in which the receptor has a role and a script to follow, the role of being consumed (identity) in a consumption context as an enunciation of belonging, idolatry, control and social acceptance” (TAVARES, 2005, p.21) Of subjectivity, since “the subject is socially accepted because he buys; and the social produces this subjectivity, by the intermedium of consumption. (…) Taking psychosociology as argument, it can be observed that the advertisement discourse manipulates the individual and the collective by a narrative of fable and fantasy as allegories of a publicized rhetoric” (TAVARES, 2005, p. 21).
Of belonging, because “the commercial brands (…) support the structure of the self and of the group, under the principles of adhesion, belonging and acknowledgement” (TAVARES, 2005, p.21) Through the production and agencying of values and knowledges there is the naturalization of consumption desires, which are offered as an ideal of existence, where in order “to be”, it is necessary “to have”.
Of “ways of being”, because the commercial brands can construct symbols, through communicational processes that fabricate subjectivities, like floating identities, fetishizing the commodities, transforming them into brands of seduction (TAVARES, 2005).
PUBLICITY IN PRACTICE: THE PSYCHOSOCIOLOGICAL DISCUSSION OF CONSUMPTION, AND THE “PRÊT-À-PORTER” IDENTITIES
Hereafter, it will be done an analysis on the advertisement pieces, considering the categories proposed in the methodology.
Advertisement piece of Perfume Essencial – “Natura” - (Image 1).
Identity – the piece invests on the representation of identity proposals, as one can notice in the presented signs: the affectionate man, the affectionate woman, the happy couple. The moment of encounter and celebration translated into an upward movement that reinforces the conception of identities constructed in mobility, fluid and flexible.
As a process of subjectivity, there are suggested clues, slightly pulverized like the perfume, that are presented in unfocused images on the background of the love meeting solitude’s figure, which is bottled along with the perfume, becoming part of the product itself. The regard the couple share to each other demonstrates the encounter, the affection sharing, bringing the satisfaction smile, suggesting that, together, they can achieve anything. The varied coloration of this advertisement piece suggests the connection of Essencial as a feminine and masculine aroma, at the same time. The perfume’s flask imposes itself on the image when compared to the other pictorial representations, suggesting being as important to the couple’s encounter as to the product.
As a belonging strategy, signs of social prestige are represented. The image of the victorious, complete, happy couple, wearing party clothes, a couple that can achieve everything they want, presenting a solid affective relation, what refers to the idea of social acknowledgement and belonging. The idea of “being inside”, belonging to the machine. All contained in a single flask of perfume.
The message’s text reiterates the presented images, reminding that the encounter, the happy and shared stories, are the most important. An aroma that suits both men and women, and the “way of being” of who goes for the success, creates bonds. The success and the happiness that are constructed between the “from” and the “to” of a gift, symbolized in a flask of perfume. It reflects the promise of insertion in the liquid society, from narrated stories.
Advertisement piece of Perfume Elysée, “O Boticário” (Image 2)
Identity – The advertisement is fundamentally constructed around the festive date of Mother’s Day. The identity representation is of a mother and a son, affectively united in an affectionate encounter, symbolized by the heart images, by the sun that shines bright on the top. There is a construction of a maternal identity who embraces and tells stories to her son (the landscape and trees symbols found below), where he is her prince (image of a king’s crown), and her angel (angel wings and halo on the top of the boy’s head).
As a subjectivity process, there is the reference, one more time, to love building relations, the affection universe as edifying. The mother and the son surrounded by an aura of fantasy and encounter, bringing the subjective construction of a maternal, magic and surrounding love.
The advertisement piece establishes a relation between the magical encounter between the mother and the son when it builds an extension of the pictorial symbols, through the landscape drawings and images of trees that appear in the mother-and-son figure as well as in the flask of perfume. The belonging bonds built from the stories shared between mother and son remain in the product. The colors of the piece, predominantly similar to the ones seen in the perfume, supports this belonging construction.
The “way of being” proposed in the piece is one of supporting the familiar bonds. The construction of a universe of magical encounters through the sharing of stories and fantasies reinforces the role of the caring affectionate mother solidifying the relations. The perfume’s volatility, on the one hand, and the relation of permanence between mother and son, on the other.
X. FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
Both the thoughts of Gilles Deleuze and Zygmunt Bauman express equally relevant perspectives towards the consumption studies. The comprehension of individual and the process of his subjectivation in the field of consumption, in a psychosocial manner, reflect the rhizome, the becoming and the desire’s production logic, in which its creation operates beyond the imaginary, but managed by the movements of market (consumption).
In society of control, there is the deterritoria- lization of individuals and social groups, the non-place of powers, the agencements, the condition in which there is no “out” (the consumption is the “in”).
The contributions of Deleuze and Guattari, without the illuminist and positivist pretention, bring a philosophical restlessness, a transgression to the thought, a perversion. This way, under the psychosocial look, subjectivity must be reflected in plateaus, in dimensions, in a permanent production. The deleuzean- guattarian psychosocial vision points to the multiplicities of subjectivities and its infinite production, of “prêt-à- porter identities” or “subjectivity kits”. In the case of consumption, the process of this subjectivation takes place by the influence of a net, which operates according to the market’s logic.
After all, each individual, each social group promotes its own subjectivity-shaping system, and all that happens ecosophically, through the “capitalistic culture” and the deterritorialized or connectionist capitalism, according to the market logic, in an environment that is in permanent liquefaction, as Bauman warns.
If the society of control corresponds to the axiomatic logic of capital, the conception of consumption (and its parasitical and immaterial expansion) is the metamorphosis of a model of deterritorialized, mobile and life producer capitalism. From the docile and useful bodies to the consumerist souls. Thus, new subjectivities are feed and produced according to a consumption spiral of “ways of being”, always ephemeral and disposable, bound to the marketing interests.
Consumption is, in the psychosociological perspective, a fluid “way of being”, in the condition of a new allegory of “liquid modernity” capitalism, avid for authenticity/difference and producer of desires, and in the idea of being “inside” as a strategy of psychosocial belonging. This psychosocial look occurs by the consumer’s freedom of individual choice with the aim of being accepted and recognized by the collective (being identical, but different), and also by the pleasure of consuming (and consume him/herself) to him/herself, at the same time. And, sometimes, also ambivalent, since the consumer’s individualism is crossed over by gestures and fugacious moments of solidarity. But, above all, of an hedonist “human having” that finds in the brands consumption a strategy of subjective value, because “to be”, it is necessary “to have” or, at least, “to look like”.
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