Essay on The Evocative Power of Things

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Literary Review: Grant McCracken, Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Good and Activities; The Evocative Power of Things (Indiana University Press 1988)

In a chapter called The Evocative Power of Things in his book Culture and Consumption, anthropologist Grant McCracken is concerned with the social ‘cultivation of hopes and ideals’ and the ‘bridging goods’ we use to cultivate what is otherwise unattainable. The author suggests that we use these goods to recover what he calls ‘displaced meanings’ of our culture. We look to buy what is missing from our lives and that enough will never be enough. He looks at what inanimate objects do for us and how our desire to consume can become the foundation
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Displaced meaning can now be addressed with the addition of stuff; consumer goods. It is here that McCracken comes to a recovery of meaning that had previously been displaced, he calls them ‘bridges’. He is careful to explain that the ideals must not now be disproved with the introduction of inanimate objects to the strategy he says ‘access must not be allowed to undo the work of displacement’. Before goods are even purchased they can be used as a bridge, when they are just an idea, when they are ‘coveted’. The consumer imagines owning the product and with this product comes all kinds of ‘ideal circumstances’, using myself as an example; I may see a pair of designer shoes with a price tag of €600 and I know that I want them, I have an emotional response to them and I need them. Before I’ve even bought the shoes I have visualized the outfit I will also need to go with them and the fabulous restaurant I will be taken to in them, and I can even imagine just how much better my life would be if I could only posses them. Those shoes have become a bridge to ‘displaced meaning and an idealisation of life as it should be lived’.

It is of course commonplace to covet things beyond our means; McCracken explains that there is little point in craving that which is within our purchasing power so when the consumer finally makes the