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Packaging of Identity and Identifiable Packages: A study of women-commodity negotiation through product packaging

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In the age of post-Fordist flexible production, a consumer realizes her/his identity in part through the act of consumption. The visual aspect of commodity-consumer negotiation acquires importance, as commodities must be visually differentiated to attract the gaze of a particular consuming group. The act of visual differentiation is achieved through symbolic packaging, which creates a cognitive link between commodity and consumer. I draw from Baudrillard, who states that in postmodern consumption the sign value of products becomes more important than their actual usefulness (use value). Baudrillard, however, overlooks the importance of gender, race and space in this visual mediation. Through an empirical study of the packaging of women's skin and hair products in two different stores catering to two different income groups in Worcester, Massachusetts, I indicate how gendered identities that are created are complex, porous and materially rooted in space. The geographic situatedness of the exercise checks overgeneralizations allowing it to be studied as an object-subject mediation in a particular spatial context.
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Keywords: Sign value; commodity-consumer negotiation; consumption; identity; packaging; symbol

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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