Miles, Steven (1996) 'You just wear what you want don't yer'? an empirical examination of the relationship between youth consumption and the construction of identity. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The social scientific debate over consumption is of increasing concern to
commentators addressing the cultural implications of socio-economic change.
All too often, however, the individual meanings that consumers have for the
goods they consume have been neglected by these commentators, notably in
favour of abstract discussions of the role of consumption in the emergence of
a 'postmodern' culture. Arguing that consumption provides the sociologist
with an invaluable means of addressing questions concerning the relationship
between structure and agency, this thesis attempts to move beyond the
limited conception of a fragmented self, picking and choosing his or her
identity from the menu of life, to begin to establish an empirical grounding
for the relationship between consumption and identity amongst young
people. Data were collected from a triangulated three-stage research process,
in the form of a series of focus group interviews, informed by Personal
Construct Psychology, a participant observation study in a sports shop, and a
Consumer Meanings Questionnaire. Arguing that young people's identities
are largely constructed in peer group settings, the evidence presented
suggests that consumption provides an everyday cultural framework, within
which young consumers negotiate some semblance of everyday stability in a
'risk' society. In this sense, young people appear to pursue a dual task. First,
they are intent upon forming group-based identities. Second, they attempt to
construct a sense of individuality in this context. Hence, it is argued that
whilst young people choose consumer goods according to peer group
meanings, they tend to see their own choices as 'individual' and those of their
peers as being determined by media and marketing-created desires. As such,
whilst it would be misleading to see young people as dupes of the capitalist
system, neither are they free agents. Teenagers construct their identities
partially through the framework that consumption provides, but not with
products of their own choosing. Far from being whimsical consumers in this
context, I argue that essentially, young people are modernists, adapting to the
rational constraints upon their everyday lives and changing the character of
their consumption patterns accordingly. The situated realities of so-called
postmodern forms of consumption can therefore only be understood, it is
argued, through innovative triangulated research methods which address
consumer meanings in routine everyday settings and which, in turn, consider
the theoretical implications of such meanings, for both an understanding of
the ideological impact of consumerism and it's relationship to debates
concerning structure and agency.

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