Consumption and Teleoaffective Formations: Consumer Culture and Commercial Communications

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The paper considers the potential of a novel practice theoretical concept—
teleoaffective formation—for the study of consumption. The concept builds
upon Schatzki’s (2002) social ontology of practice. Teleoaffective
formations are configurations across multiple practices, that enjoin those
practices to common ends, ordering their affective engagements and
offering general understandings through which participants make sense of
the projects they pursue. The paper argues that the approach affords
consideration of large-scale configurations of practice and discourse and
therefore enables re-engagement, from a practice theory perspective, with
an earlier generation of concerns with consumer culture—including issues
of cultural intermediation, consumption norms and the motivational
structures of consumption. The distinctive features of the approach are
illustrated through three successive teleoaffective formations that link the
field of commercial communications (advertising, marketing, public
relations, etcetera) with consumer culture. The first—‘consumer
sovereignty’—originates in the 1920s and ‘30s and finds its fullest
expression in the mid twentieth century. The second—‘emancipatory
consumerism’—emerged in the late 1960s and came to characterise late
twentieth century consumer culture. These are briefly sketched. The third,
which I propose to call ‘promotional sustainable consumption’, is a nascent
formation of discourse and practice relating brands, sustainability and
consumption. This formation is explored in more depth. The periodisation
should not be understood in terms of epochal shifts but as an ongoing,
recombinatory process. The three formations represent re-configurations
between heterogeneous elements, inter alia: general understandings,
teleological orientations, and affective engagements. Each successive
formation informs novel understandings of the consumer and provides
cultural resources for transformations in consumption norms. Each also
provides resources for capitalist legitimation. The article concludes with a
brief discussion of some theoretical and methodological implications of the
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Early online date4 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2017


  • brand, consumer, communications, sustainability, sustainable consumption, teleoaffective, marketing, practice theory, project, promotional

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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