Finally, after exactly a year of working at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, I’m entering the fields of global blogging. Ploughing my way through the myriads of brands my illustrious agency has amased, I finally achieved some level of clarity between the order of theory and the order of practice. Time to blog…
And by way of kicking off my thinking on advertising, marketing, business and consumption, I decided to coin another new term. Before it was gignetics, now it is kinsumption.
Kinsumption, ain’t it something? This is what happens when an academic anthropologist, with a background in evolutionary, sociocultural, linguistic and other kinds of research, moves into the private sector. At some point Australian anthropologists invented the term “kintax,” instead of syntax, to refer to the propensity of Australian aboriginal languages to bend grammar to reflect social structure. So, I guess I am not alone here.
But seriously, what am I talking about here? I was inspired by the classic volume by Grant McCracken entitled “Culture and Consumption I,” which documents how individualism and consumption were born in early modern Western Europe out of the traditional concern with “family status.” Remember? The original function of objects in European culture was to increase family status and preserve continuity between ancestors and descendants. Patina on an object was an “icon” that signified the duration of the family. Then something happened, and Europeans started to shop for new commodities instead of inheriting timeless artifacts. Fashion came to replace patina.
The argument itself has a patina on it. Most famously, in the 19th century the British legal historian, Sir Henry Sumner Maine, advanced a theory according to which European societies evolved from status (kinship status, status obtained at birth) to contract.
But back to ‘Culture and Consumption I.” As a result of the collapse of the original family estate system, a whole new order of cultural meanings came into being. Advertising and fashion industries evolved as main mediators between culture and material objects (or between culture and production).
Complementing Grant, I would add museums here as well. Museums emerged with modernity. If fashion is about novelty, museums are about antiquity, and advertising is about currency. The continuity between past, present and future has therefore remained intact. An object leaves the hands of a designer, makes a pause in an ad agency and achieves immortality in the hands of a curator. The collapse of one “kinship” order leads to the creation of another kinship order. Where are the noble families in this new order of consumption? Brands are these families. And iconic products (Harley Davidson motorcycles, pardon my banality) continue to be valued for their symbolic patina.
That’s what I mean by kinsumption.