Negotiating marginality through consumption
Economia, Istituzioni e Società Università di Sassari Sassari, Italy
Rationale and object
Through consumption and use practices the members of a social group negotiate, confirm, reproduce and /or redefine the material and symbolic values of the exchanged goods. That negotiation is a form of interaction through which people recognize each other and identify themselves.
The paper presents the results of an empirical research on consumption practices of people in marginal or precarious situation. Those subjects are not traditionally perceived as able to face and contrast the constraints imposed by their social situation. Nonetheless, on the basis of literature, we can talk of a fragile equilibrium between the bonds imposed by the specific marginal situation and the capacity/possibility that actors have to choose among different courses of action. Through empirical study of consumption practices, we wanted to better explore that domain and understand how people in marginal situation actually face structural constraints.
Empirical research is mainly based on in-depth interviews of marginal people about their consumption practices. Interview work rests upon a wider information base which concerns the structure of the local welfare system and the opinions of social workers.
The paper will present analysis of interviews in order to show how actors try to keep their dignity while faced with social exclusion and material and immaterial deprivation. It will show how identities are built, negotiated and preserved through consumption of goods and services. A particular focus will be put on the role of organizations that supply welfare services and on how people in need deal with some rigid classifying automatisms that often result into stigma.