Consumption as War

Lost somewhere in Michel de Certeau’s prose, I will return to what I found particularly clear (and thus exciting), the introduction, and to a theme that struck me while reading: that of war and warfare.

On page xvii of the introduction, Certeau introduces the metaphor of war when discussing the effects products have on consumers, using the terms “actions” and “engagements” and specifically stating that he means these words in “the military sense.”  He then goes on in the following paragraph to make even more explicit this framing of cultural interpretation as warfare when he calls for a “polemological analysis of culture” (I had to look this word up, but oed.com tells me that “polemology” means the “study of war, especially as an academic discipline”).  Culture, he says, “articulates conflicts…and develops in an atmosphere of tensions, and often of violence” (xvii).  Though culture attempts to temporarily mediate this violence, offering “contracts of compatibility and compromises,” the battle between the weak and the strong is continued through our consumptive practices, or (restated in military terms), our “tactics of consumption” (xvii).

There is more work to be done here to map out the exact relationship between culture, war, and consumption (as it appears so far that culture is merely the battle ground, and consumption is the actual battle), but I was initially intrigued by this passage because of the ways it described the “tension” and “violence” in which culture exists.  These words immediately reminded me of Fanon and our discussion of colonialism and decolonization, while Certeau’s emphasis on “everyday practices” simultaneously called to mind Williams’s concept of culture as ordinary.  Essentially, two worlds collided in my head: the world of real, lived violence in a colonial or post-colonial nation, and the seemingly innocuous world of supper and trains, of everyday life.  Said had already made this connection for us, showing how seemingly harmless literature actually furthered the colonial project and brought that (violent) project into the everyday lives of the colonizer – but this connection is more explicit and forceful.  Everyday acts of consumption are war.  By purchasing a specific item and consuming it in a particular way, I am engaging in battle – and not just a metaphorical battle, but a violent battle.  Williams made valuable and meaningful everything that I do and every product that I consume – Certeau makes it dangerous, subversive, warlike.  Makes me think a lot harder about this egg salad sandwich I just made…

5 responses to “Consumption as War