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The New Thriftiness: How The Credit Crunch Has Re-energised Middle America

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http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/james...middle-america/

So you thought that anthropology was all about fellows in pith helmets pursuing the noble savage? Think again.

A fascinating piece of ethnographic research has just crossed my desk. It is all about how the global recession has shaped a new consumerism in urban America.

Its author, Timothy de Waal Malefyt, the director of cultural discoveries at ad agency BBDO, carried out his fieldwork among 72 middle-income, ethnically diverse men and women aged between 21 and 60 in six US cities.

What he discovered was that the credit crunch has acted as a cohesive force in society and has fundamentally altered the way that people relate to each other.

By hanging out in shopping malls and observing people’s shopping behaviour, he discovered that pride, storytelling and a sense of community have returned to middle-America.

It’s a far cry from my experience in the field. I studied anthropology at university, and my ethnography entailed living in a rural Gandhian community in South India. When I wasn’t studying kinship structures and tribal education systems I helped out with silk weaving and animal husbandry (the process of extracting sperm from bulls and distributing

it to local farmers to inseminate their cows with. The exact method used is for another blog. Possibly). It was about as far removed from the shopping mall as it is possible to be.

Mr Malefyt’s argument is this: before the recession, all marketing campaigns tried to convince consumers to “trade up†– to buy a more expensive pair of shoes or a better-tailored suit. The prevailing “consumption narrative†encouraged us to enjoy brands. It was expected that shoppers would naturally aspire for bigger, better, more.

However this has changed. Now, so-called “restricted spending†is in vogue.

“A new narrative has arisen that promotes more careful and thoughtful use of money on things that matter more for people,†he says. As far as consumers are concerned, impulse shopping has been replaced by preplanning, using coupons, writing lists and buying less.

This “new narrative†is all about celebrating resourcefulness and the “positive social values of thriftâ€.

How is this manifesting itself? Put simply, shoppers are sharing their information, tips and discoveries with others. This is happening to such a degree that a new “collective sociability†is emerging, he argues.

“Social values perceived as frugality, scrimping, bartering and being thrifty are recast as being appropriate, even commendable competencies, and are evidenced in the stories people tell others of what and how they buyâ€.

Being thrifty no longer means losing out. Instead it represents a sense of joy in shopping for the common good of self and others.

One of the best examples in the research is Don, a 55-year-old African American computer programmer from Atlanta. He lost his job at Company A and took a lower-paid job at Company B. This is what Don said: “I used to go out to lunch everyday.

“I [had] no predisposition to bringing my own food to work in a bagged lunch. I hated how it looked to other people. It is sort of a pride thing for a black person. I wouldn’t buy Costco water either, only Desani. I just wanted to be like other guys. It used to mess with my head. But now, in reality, who cares! I will gladly take a bag lunch to work for a

week if I can take my grandson to Target and buy him an Elmo doll. It means much more to me now.â€

Donna, a 38-year-old married woman of Italian descent from New Jersey, says she has re-prioritised her life.

“Before, if my husband or I wanted something we used to just go out and get it. I’d say ‘I’m going shopping’, not with a purpose in mind, but just to go shopping. We used to act on our wants, go get it, and think nothing of it (points to large TV screen). Now, we really discuss necessities. We focus on what we need, not those immediate gratification things I did in the past… It’s positive to watch how I spend my money, to plan it out of I really need or don’t need something,†she says.

Thriftiness means that money has more value, both in terms of people’s respect for it but – more literally – in terms of what they get for it. “Restricted money†makes people proud to tell stories of how they have saved and the ingenuity they have had to use.

Interesting piece.

Does this highlight the limits to marketing brainwashing? It appears that ad men are now having to dance to what the people what and will react too rather than them dictating to the people what they want.

Never quite grasped the groupthink mentality of having to have what everyone else has got.

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The lure of being like others is very strong, this is only one aspect. Why do almost all medium/large companies have broadly the same organisation structure - Manufacturing, personnel, finance, buying, so on - when it is not appropriate to many of them? People just want to be accepted.

This is really the same behaviour, just a change of fashion. If circumstances change then they will again.

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It's interesting that while most predictions for the economic crisis indicate that there will be more social problems, crime, racial tension etc. we might actually see the opposite happening and people coming closer together.

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“I [had] no predisposition to bringing my own food to work in a bagged lunch. I hated how it looked to other people. It is sort of a pride thing for a black person. I wouldn’t buy Costco water either, only Desani. I just wanted to be like other guys.

Isn't it amazing that people value their lives and their worth to society in terms of what brand of water they drink?

Some of these people have too much money and time on their hands

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Does this highlight the limits to marketing brainwashing? It appears that ad men are now having to dance to what the people what and will react too rather than them dictating to the people what they want.

Not really. This is just a marketing firm finding out what new angle they'll have to take during the recession.

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Guest DissipatedYouthIsValuable
It's interesting that while most predictions for the economic crisis indicate that there will be more social problems, crime, racial tension etc. we might actually see the opposite happening and people coming closer together.

You're not suggesting economic egalitarianism and a reversion to base needs is a good thing?

Son, are you a Communist?

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Guest DissipatedYouthIsValuable
Actually the old Tory grandees were as horrified by neoliberal marketisation as the Scargillite left.

A smaller GINI index might promote greater opportunity for social mobility, and less social group isolation, leading to greater exchange of ideas, reducing confirmation bias and detrimental positive feedback loops?

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A smaller GINI index might promote greater opportunity for social mobility, and less social group isolation, leading to greater exchange of ideas, reducing confirmation bias and detrimental positive feedback loops?

Have you been reading books again?

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Guest DissipatedYouthIsValuable
Have you been reading books again?

It's bloody difficult, what with all this Stalinist paperwork to do to prove I'm capable of doing the job I'm doing sixty hours a week, for the privelege of paying someone else's mortgage, but I try.

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It's bloody difficult, what with all this Stalinist paperwork to do to prove I'm capable of doing the job I'm doing sixty hours a week, for the privelege of paying someone else's mortgage, but I try.

30 of those 60 hours you spend on here though, so it's not all bad.

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It's bloody difficult, what with all this Stalinist paperwork to do to prove I'm capable of doing the job I'm doing sixty hours a week, for the privelege of paying someone else's mortgage, but I try.

Well it's a good job you don't get distracted by the internet.

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Guest DissipatedYouthIsValuable
30 of those 60 hours you spend on here though, so it's not all bad.

I know, I should be working like a honed machine, minute to minute at peak efficiency, never skipping a beat.

It's probably my fault the World is in such a mess.

Anyway, the free market of locum General Practice has given me a morning off, so if I want to smoke all morning, in my dressing gown, posting with a load of other saddos on here, rather than filling in an account of my probity for an appraisal, "Paid for my own moat clearance and bathplugs out of post tax income.", and abusing commas, then I will.

Edited by DissipatedYouthIsValuable

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It's interesting that while most predictions for the economic crisis indicate that there will be more social problems, crime, racial tension etc. we might actually see the opposite happening and people coming closer together.

Just like in the 1930s, eh?

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30 of those 60 hours you spend on here though, so it's not all bad.

:lol:

Walked into that one.

However as it applies to every other regular poster including Minos, it's not quite as devastating as it appears.

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I know, I should be working like a honed machine, minute to minute at peak efficiency, never skipping a beat.

It's probably my fault the World is in such a mess.

I have visions of you withdrawing yourself half way through old Daphne's cervical screening, coming back to the PC to see what that basterd Minos has posted. You must get dizzy.

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I have visions of you withdrawing yourself half way through old Daphne's cervical screening, coming back to the PC to see what that basterd Minos has posted. You must get dizzy.

I haven't got the certificate allowing me to delicately brush the withered cervix of old Daphne these days. I'm waiting for a place on the three-week course in gender empathy before I can even think of starting to ask a lady to undress.

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I haven't got the certificate allowing me to delicately brush the withered cervix of old Daphne these days. I'm waiting for a place on the three-week course in gender empathy before I can even think of starting to ask a lady to undress.

:lol: All the money in the world wouldn't get Minos near a withered cervix. You'll have to make do with Horace's prostrate for now.

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:lol: All the money in the world wouldn't get Minos near a withered cervix. You'll have to make do with Horace's prostrate for now.

Is Horace kneeling?

Prostate, tut.

Did you go to a good school?

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Is Horace kneeling?

Prostate, tut.

Did you go to a good school?

Being a man, my fingers sometimes act like a sausage when using a keyboard, resulting in accidental key depressions. Women's work really, this keyboard stuff.

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Being a man, my fingers sometimes act like a sausage when using a keyboard, resulting in accidental key depressions...

Just as well you don't work as a gynocologist then! :blink:

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Being a man, my fingers sometimes act like a sausage when using a keyboard, resulting in accidental key depressions. Women's work really, this keyboard stuff.

Are you suggesting you're overnourished?

I know a lot of very skinny pensioners who'd be delighted to take some of that food off your plate.

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Are you suggesting you're overnourished?

I know a lot of very skinny pensioners who'd be delighted to take some of that food off your plate.

No, I'm not. Send them Parry's way.

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