Metamorphoses of consumption18 Novembre 2021
To find out what our world will consume tomorrow, perhaps we should observe the behaviour of the ‘aspirational class’? That is to say, this category of individuals affirming their social status through cultural, not economic, markers, as Elizabeth Currid-Halkett points out in her latest book The Sum of Small Things, a Theory of the Aspirational Class.
The working classes have always sought to emulate the dominant classes in displaying a certain ideal of the good life. In ancient Rome, for example, the decorations of opulent homes were copied by lower-ranking families, leading the elites of the time to use rarer and more expensive materials to distinguish themselves once again.
Later, in the modern West, the well-mannered bourgeoisie with refined tastes and a love of leisure were emulated. This strong desire to mimic the ‘leisure class’ has fed contemporary society, which has become fond of luxury goods, exotic holidays, beautiful houses and cars. These are all visible signs of perceived success and achievement. With industrialisation, this ostentatious mode of consumption has become largely democratised and has lost some of its symbolic value, no longer constituting a class marker.
Thus, today, a class is emerging that Elizabeth Currid-Halkett describes as aspirational, defined by its non-ostentatious consumption of goods and services aimed at acquiring a better quality of life through culture (museums, concerts, opera, etc.) and health (organic markets, “healthy” food, etc.), which are becoming a cornerstone of success. An ethical, healthy, culturally rich lifestyle and a value system based on the acquisition of knowledge, diplomas, skills and access to education (between 2003 and 2013, school fees for the aspirational class increased by 80%). A conscious investment in the hope of future returns, far from the ostensible waste. For this social class with a claimed intellectual and cultural profile, these informed spending choices create and reinforce status differences. The “must” of elegance becomes discretion.
Gone are the days of ostentation, replaced by sober and responsible consumption, ethical, respectful of nature and animals, committed to fighting global warming? Not so simple! Because we are really touching on a system of values, beliefs and convictions: on culture… In any case, tomorrow, this new “aspirational” class, impregnated with this moral order and concerned with giving meaning to its life, will probably be massively imitated in its turn… For brands, integrating this perspective into their strategic thinking is key in order to target future development projects.