Representations – A critical look at media’s role in cleanliness conventions and inconspicuous consumption

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In post-industrialist societies, similar high standards of living are becoming not only desired but also expected the world over. Globalising processes ensure that every material desire is within the reach of ordinary citizens, and then flame these desires in order to sustain continuous growth narratives. But are increasingly resource-intensive lifestyles sustainable, or even desirable? This article investigates cleanliness using representations in media to understand how practices – including washing, disinfecting and sanitising – have become increasingly normal. Five popular Swedish magazines from 1985 to 2015 are used to track the representations of cleanliness. Idealisation, shame and medicalisation are the main themes arising from this data set. These themes aim to perpetuate higher cleanliness conventions and translate them into consumer goods. The article is inspired by a critical theoretical perspective which helps to reveal inequalities perpetuated by the way media represents cleanliness and suggests that the imperative to clean falls most heavily on those who lack the resources to resist. Processes of inclusion and exclusion are inherent in consumer culture and this attempt at using critical theory to understand consumption practices illuminates consumption’s role in not only increasing pressure on the natural environment but also amplifying social stratification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-346
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number3
Early online date2018 Oct 29
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Aug 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology

Free keywords

  • cleanliness
  • magazines
  • representation
  • social practice
  • Sweden
  • media
  • inconspicuous consumption
  • critical theory
  • discourse
  • sustainability


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