9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Politics of Consumption Building II, C5.01

Liquefying Space: The Cultural Politics of 'Loft' Marketing

In this essay we explore an interesting dilemma of what Bauman (2008) terms 'light' capitalist consumer culture: the marketing and consumption of what we call 'solid consumption objects'. We consider a consumption object solid when the acquisition of it requires the buyer to make- at least in principle- a more or less long-term commitment to the object's specific features and product attributes. To exemplify this concept, we investigate the marketing of high-end loft apartments in Toronto, Canada. Our analysis shows that the efforts of the developers and marketers to sell the loft apartments run up against the need of the sales target- the upwardly mobile, urban 'professionals' (incl. Florida's (2002; 2007) 'creative class')- to design their lives as projects always under construction, where social and economic success is premised on the ability to be mobile (Bauman 1996). In other words, loft developers must sell an object fixed in space to buyers unwilling and unable to bear the anchoring consequences of the social, cultural, and physical space they occupy. We adapt Bauman's (2000) notion of liquid modernity as a theoretical lens to show how the marketing of lofts uses a collection of tools and techniques aimed at 'liquefying' the physicality of the loft in hopes to respond to buyers' needs for social, cultural, and economic mobility. Drawing on an analysis of a wide variety of marketing materials, we suggest that physical space is put in dialogue with consumerist yearnings by constructing it as a site for neo-bourgeois explorations of life as art and by inserting it into a larger spatial arrangement of typical middle-class consumption activities. No longer "petrif[ied] into everlasting reality" (Bauman, 2000, p. 62), the loft becomes a node in a network open to always changing connections, floating in the liquid space of the city (cf. Cupers, 2005). In the final analysis, we propose to extend production-focussed theories of space by drawing attention to the ways in which consumer capitalism mobilizes consumption practices as integral element in the social production of urban space.