The riots that spread across the country this summer have left a strong impression in the public imagery. From London to Birmingham, the British society has showed and shouted the presence of a deep-seated malaise which appears to affect mostly its youngest members. Many commentators have tried to give a name and an explanation to this outburst of social disorder. However, one of the most lucid and precise analysis of the events has been provided by arguably the foremost sociologist of our times – Zygmunt Bauman. In a short yet sharp article, Bauman unfolds the sociological dimension of the riots, explaining how capitalism and consumerism have changed and distorted not only our social values and beliefs, but also the idea itself of (be)longing.
In an era where shopping malls have become our temples and pilgrimage’s destination, and shopping lists are our breviaries, fullness of life can be achieved only by being an ‘accomplished consumer’. I shop, therefore I am. This creates a critical divide between have and have-nots, whereas defective consumers find themselves bearing the stigma of a life un-fulfilled – with no human dignity, no meaning and, consequently, lack of respect for themselves and others around them.
Contemporary have-nots are outcasts banished from the Temple of Consumers. They see shopping malls as outposts of the enemy erected on the land of their exile. Armed, closely watched and haughty, these fortifications bar access to a life accomplished. In this sense, have-nots long for the heavily guarded goods kept inside the Temple in the hope that they will grant them access to the congregation. Daring to force the gates of the temple, thus, seems to signal a forlorn attempt at winning a seat on the pew, a place among the members of the Church of Consumerism.