Cars for sale! An ethnography of the collusion of space and consumption in power and agency struggles


The importance of space and its “perception-shaping, behaviour-inducing properties” (Sherry 1998) has been long acknowledged by consumer researchers. Public spaces such as shopping malls (Sandicki and Holt, 1998), bridal salons (Otnes, 1998), and converted shopping centres (Maclaren and Brown, 2005) have all been investigated as spaces where meanings are unravelled, contested and entertained. Equally, spaces play out emotive experiences such as escape (Hewer, 2003), utopia and nostalgia (Maclaran and Brown, 2005). Adding to this important opus, the present paper investigates public space as a site of contested power and agency manifested through consumption. The use of public in this context means a "realm in which people define themselves as publics, through ongoing communication, definition and negotiation” (Sargeson 2002, 21).

Using the case of impromptu car yards where private cars for sale are illegally congregated in one space against local council laws and regulations, this paper theorises public space and consumption as interwoven in a larger discourse of power and agency (Visconti, Sherry Borghini and Anderson 2010). Space, in this instance, lays the ground for alternative consumption, sharing (Belk 2010) and exchange which defy the structures of the formal “marketplace” and contest the power held by legal and political entities (Campbell 2005; White 2007). While public space in modernity is ordered and managed by political and cultural entities such as councils, governments etc, space also “complicates the assumption of a collective experience of culture and its products” (de Burgh-Woodman and Brace-Govan 2010).

This paper uses the work of Henri Lefevbre (1974) to theorise the collusion of space and consumption to express power and agency struggles between people and formal structures. In this respect, the present study extends previous use of Lefebvre’s (1974) work in consumer research (Houliez 2010a 2010b) and urban studies (McCann 1999, 1995). While previous work has illuminated the importance of spatial practices and negotiating processes by consumers, this paper advances on this use of Lefebvre by situating space and consumption as two collusive channels to agency and dissent.


Published in Full, Peer-reviewed


Further information about this conference may be accessed here

Advances in Consumer Research may be accessed from the publisher here

Advances in Consumer Research may be accessed from the National Library of Australia here

The Author:

Dr Hélène de Burgh-Woodman