‘So much choice and no choice at all’: A socio-psychoanalytic interpretation of consumerism as a source of pollution

Elizabeth Nixon, Yiannis Gabriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (SciVal)


Psychoanalytic concepts and theory have long served studies of consumption, from exposing unconscious motives to elucidating contemporary consuming desire. Sharing with psychoanalysis an interest in symbolic meanings, anthropological approaches have also contributed to the study of contemporary consumption and social life. In this article, we draw on both Freudian psychoanalysis and Douglas’s structural anthropology to examine the field of non-consumption or the ‘choice’ not to buy. Based on detailed interpretations of interview data, we argue that consuming less at the individual level is not always the result of purposeful acts of ideological, anti-consumption protest or the outward expression of countercultural sentiments. Rather, forms of non-consumption can have deeper psychological origins that are located in a view of consumerism as a threatening force and a potent source of toxic contamination to mind and body, ‘dirt’ in Douglas’s conceptualization. We argue that this outlook prompts a constant vigilance and the deployment of different defensive measures, prohibitions and purification rituals akin to Freud’s conceptualization of the obsessive–compulsive individual. In this way, our analysis seeks to illuminate the myriad of largely invisible ways in which some people ‘choose’ not to buy within an ostensibly consumer culture or dismiss the idea of such a choice altogether.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-56
Number of pages18
JournalMarketing Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Choice
  • consumerism
  • Douglas
  • Freud
  • marketplace
  • non-consumption
  • obsessive–compulsive
  • pollution


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