RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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100 New Configurations of Consumption (1): Paper Session
Affiliation Economic Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Alex Hughes (Newcastle University, UK)
Suzanne Hocknell (Newcastle University, UK)
Chair(s) Alex Hughes (Newcastle University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Huxley Building, Room 311
Session abstract This session embraces changing patterns and practices of consumption that are vehicles of hopes (for example of better lives, of responsibility, of growth) and harbingers of troubles (such as over-consumption, sweated labour, and the demise of the high street). Geographical research has grasped consumption’s energies in driving global supply chains and production, shaping urban forms and lifestyles and framing forms of political practice based on the ethics of purchase. The session will engage with recent transformations in the sphere of consumption and their economic and cultural significance. Globalization of production is being matched by a globalization of consumption, shaped in part by growing, but unevenly defined, middle classes and increasing spending power in the global South as well as North. Digital technologies and platforms are troubling existing ways goods and services are consumed. Urban spaces are affected by the changing fortunes of retail capital in the global economy and the challenges posed by trends in online consumption to retail store formats and locations. Consumers are increasingly viewed as agents of responsibility regarding the environmental and social impacts of producing the goods they buy. Dimensions of healthy consumption are navigated through an ever more complex landscape of corporate influence, variable state intervention across the globe and discourses of anxiety. The session will explore these and other aspects of the shifting arrangements of consumption.
Linked Sessions New Configurations of Consumption (2): Panel Session
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Troubles and progressive possibilities in new configurations of consumption: translating insights from global agro-commodity chains to local ‘solidary’ agriculture
Johanna Herrigel (University of Zurich, Switzerland)
In this paper, I sketch out my embryonic attempt at querying hope and trouble, that is progressive possibilities and problems of inequality and exploitation, across diverse food economies. For this, I engage with two specific and purposefully contrasting examples of food economies constituted through people’s mundane and combined practices of production, exchange and consumption.

First, I problematize binary accounts that attribute exclusively hope or trouble to global agro-commodity chains and the food produced, circulated and consumed therethrough. I ground my problematization in insights gained throughout my Ph.D. project on performing global fresh vegetable commodity chains in Tanzania.

Then, I attempt to abstract from this a conceptual concern with how diverse economic practices of production, circulation and consumption combine – that is dis/articulate – and thereby constitute concrete food economies. With regards to the question of how hope and trouble relate to specific food consumption practices, I hold, it is crucial to interrogate how these consumption practices link with multiple production and exchange practices. Indeed, consumption practices transpires the possibilities and problems present in production and exchange practices which bring into being a particular item and enable its consumption.

In order to demonstrate this, I turn to my second example in food economies, namely a new configuration of consumption called ‘Community Supported Agriculture’ (CSA) in English, ‘solidary (contractual) agriculture’ in German, or ‘proximity agriculture’ in French. Consuming through these solidary agro-networks holds hopes and troubles that are inherently related to the kinds of practices of production and exchange that co-constitute such ‘solidary’ consumption practices.
Meat and the middle classes: narratives of consumption in urban South Africa
Shari Daya (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
Rebecca Whitehead (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
Cheryl McEwan (Durham University, UK)
Alex Hughes (Newcastle University, UK)
Analyses of food in South Africa tend to be undertaken predominantly through the lens of food security. In a country where around a quarter of the population may be said to have inadequate food access, a focus on the nutritional challenges faced by the poor is both unsurprising and morally justified. Also significant, however, is the role played by a growing middle class in shaping food trends in South Africa. The middle classes in our cities are increasing in both size and diversity. Urban populations now are more racially diverse and less segregated than a generation ago, and our tastes are shaped as much by memories, personal histories, and cultural identities as by a global consciousness and the new ethical imperatives arising from widespread environmental degradation and climate change. All these factors seem to come together in one food in particular: meat. Indeed, in almost all of the fifty interviews and accompanied shopping trips and six focus groups that we conducted for this research between 2017 and 2019, across three South African cities, meat arose as an important topic of conversation. In this paper we seek to unpack the relationship between meat and the middle classes, moving beyond the framing of increased meat consumption as simply indicative of increased wealth and/or the spreading of “Westernized” diets. We explore our research participants’ narratives of meat-eating and meat-avoidance as taking shape in a context that has less to do with Western cultural imperialism, and more to do with individual health, devotion to others, and environmental consciousness. Importantly, these narratives are also cut through with racial and cultural identities shaped by South African’s recent apartheid history. These complex geographies of meat and the middle classes amplify some of the ambivalences at the heart of contemporary food consumption in a profoundly unequal society, and have salience for efforts to imagine a food system that facilitates wellbeing, justice and sustainability.
Exploring value creation in the gems and jewellery sector in Singapore
Lotte Thomsen (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)
Martin Hess (The University of Manchester, UK)
This paper is concerned with value creation, and focuses on the domestic fine gems and jewellery retail sector in Singapore. Based on interviews with Singaporean jewellers, it argues that exploration of this sector heightens our understanding of value in its various formal and informal forms. The value of gemstones, metals and jewellery are, on the one hand, standardised for example as the carat of gold. On the other hand, it is subject to much wider value creating dynamics associated with particular places and the cultural backgrounds of consumers, and used in the domestic and tourism market strategies of Singaporean jewellery retailers and corporations. The paper also shows how value creation in the Singaporean jewellery sector reaches far beyond the level of jewellery consumption and retail into firm-level pawning and investment sectors, and even into national financial sectors, making the topic particularly interesting in the geographical context of the financial center of Singapore.
The role of curation in contemporary consumer markets
Johan Jansson (Uppsala University, Sweden)
This paper focus on the concept of curation that emphasize intermediary processes sorting and filtering the information overload that characterize contemporary consumer markets. The paper has two overall aims. The first aim is theoretical and builds on studies trying to define and understand the concept of 'curation'. The ambition is both to shed light on how previous literature on curation define curatorial practices and processes as well as to identify processes that are distinctive to curation in digital spaces. The second purpose is empirical and through an in-depth case study of an online forum dedicated to discussing hi-fi and high-end audio equipment, the ambition is to identify curatorial practices and processes taking place at the forum and to understand how the online forum functions as a curatorial space. The result shows that curation in general are described as a combination of various processes such as of assembling, contextualizing, legitimizing, collecting, preserving and recommending. In addition, four dimensions distinctive to curation in digital spaces is identified stating that curation is characterized by a) digitally produced and mediated process b) de-professionalization c) both characterized by productive and consumptive modes d) an increasingly underlying and/or everyday practice. More specifically, the practice of narrated purchases is identified as characteristic to the curatorial processes taking place in the online forum. In the narrated purchase, the constant pursuit of the perfect audio reproduction system is materialized as these narratives involve with the explanations and motivations behind personal purchase experiences.
The rise and fall of hotspots and coldspots in the urban consumption landscape
Bas Spierings (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
The spatial and functional structure of the urban consumption landscape has always been subject to change but recent decades have shown a strong increase in their pace and a substantial broadening of their scope. Recent trends, including demographic, cultural, economic, technological and tourism-related ones, have resulted in intensified competition between consumption spaces and increasing divergences in terms of ‘hotspots’ and ‘coldspots’. These dynamics hold the risk of spurring gentrification processes in neighborhoods, tourist-oriented services replacing resident-oriented services and large tourist crowds dominating public spaces in ‘hotspots’ as well as a declining amount and quality of consumer services in ‘coldspots’. This paper critically explores and discusses mechanisms behind the rise and fall of hotspots and coldspots in the urban consumption landscape, politics and problematizations of (new) urban tourism-led developments involved and implications for the livability of cities and neighbourhoods.