Consumption and its discontents: addiction, identity and the problems of freedom

Br J Sociol. 2004 Jun;55(2):283-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2004.00019.x.


The focus of this paper is on the notion of 'addictive consumption', conceived as a set of discourses that are embedded within wider socio-historical processes of governance and control. It examines the discursive convergences and conflicts between practices of consumption and notions of addiction, which it notes are consistently represented in terms of the oppositional categories of self-control vs. compulsion and freedom vs. determinism. These interrelations are explored with reference to the development of notions of addiction, and their relation to shifting configurations of identity, subjectivity and governance. Finally, it suggests that the notion of 'addiction' has particular valence in advanced liberal societies, where an unprecedented emphasis on the values of freedom, autonomy and choice not only encourage the conditions for its proliferation into ever wider areas of social life, but also reveal deep tensions within the ideology of consumerism itself.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Commodification
  • Culture
  • Freedom
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Politics
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Identification*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Western World*