Consumption, belonging, identities: towards new ways of collective meeting
By Mora Laiño – Natalia Zlachevsky
Translation: Natalia Berton and Pía Errozarena.
Edition: Florencia Carotti.
What clothes do you wear? What music do you listen to? Are you a political militant? Do you belong to any religious groups?
The possible answers to any of these questions could provide clues to discover similarities and differences between individuals or social groups. These affinities are not natural, but constructed, and assure us of the existence of identifications with peer groups and social belonging.
We, human beings, are characterized by life in organized societies but, unlike ants or bees, which also live by a certain level of organization, we collectively recreate different belonging feelings towards values, ideas, practices or beliefs.
Identity forms guide our way of expressing ourselves and acting in society; yet, additionally, they are flexible and present different levels of dynamism: a nationality is not changed with the same ease with which an urban tribe is abandoned. Although identities are not fixed nor natural, they condition us and impact our daily lives in a
In modern globalized societies, nationality, religion and political affiliation coexist as major identity axes together with consumer practices that transcend the economic and utilitarian character of a simple exchange of goods or services. We approach others by sharing the same music, frequenting the same places or wearing the same clothes. Consumption is currently one of the dominant logics of encounter and exchange. A case to analyse is Netflix, which although an individually-acquired service, brings us closer to those with whom we share the TV show marathon we are undergoing.
Aside from influencing and structuring ways of life, the inequality of opportunities and the consequent distinctions become visible in the act of consuming. Either we access something that others cannot access, or we fail to access something that other social groups procure. Therefore, when an object is acquired, the meanings associated with it and the exclusion and the inclusion they represent are also acquired. Consumption thus
seems to corner us and leave little room for meetings transcending economic positions: we are linked to tose who can consume the same as us.
Can we escape this logic of bonding and union with other people? A first step is to identify consumption as part of the rituals of modern everyday life and pay attention to other rituals that configure identities differently. It is human to organize ourselves by transcendent ideas; share cultural models, beliefs, ideological positions, or values such as the defense of human rights, equality and justice, which also structure spaces of belonging.
In EWB-Ar, hundreds of volunteers meet every Saturday to devote themselves to concreting, roofing and building walls in infrastructure projects in neighborhoods and settlements. This ritual is repeated throughout a year and a half, sometimes even two. The majority of them are students or professionals who had never grabbed a tool, but recreate in those arduous workdays a community sense they thought was lost. Many are foreigners from different countries who find a place of belonging therein. It is in this way of interaction that a sense is recognized and found in social commitment crossing the boundaries of consumption.
There are multiple ritualized meeting spaces in the form of political groups, civil associations, missionary or activist groups, migrant communities or community organizations that serve as catalysts for beliefs, values and perceptions about reality and the desirable world. Inhabiting them consciously is an opportunity to mold collective identities outside of uncritical consumption that reinforces social inequality.
What do you believe in? What outrages you? How do you use your time? In which way do you contribute to the transformation of the world? What can we do together? What do you think? These are questions that circulate in spaces where identities are built with a shared horizon linked to the common good. Perhaps, it is in these interstices where we can denaturalize the idea of consumption as a measure and mediator of social relations.