Secondhandedness: consumption, disposal, and absent presence

Hetherington, Kevin (2004). Secondhandedness: consumption, disposal, and absent presence. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22(1) pp. 157–173.



In this paper I argue that in the now-extensive work on the sociology of consumption there is very little that addresses directly the important issue of disposal. Furthermore, I argue that disposal is not just about questions of waste and rubbish but is implicated more broadly in the ways in which people manage absence within social relations. I develop this argument through a critical engagement with the work of Mary Douglas, Rolland Munro, Michael Thompson, and Robert Hertz. I seek to show that disposal is never final as is implied by the notion of rubbish but involves issues of managing social relations and their representation around themes of movement, transformation, incompleteness, and return. I suggest that rather than see the rubbish bin as the archetypal conduit of disposal within consumer practices the door might be seen as a better example. This has implications for understanding questions of representation, ethics, and the management of social relations within the practices of consuming.

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