Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Media and Communication


Research Seminar: Roberta Sassatelli – All that is Fit Melts into Consumer Capitalism. The Embodied Consumer Facing Commercialism

Clothworkers’ Building North, Lecture Theatre G.12

In this paper I reflect back on my research on commercial fitness activities, considering how they are both illuminated by, and illuminate, relevant aspects of contemporary commercialism in the Global West. In particular, I shall look at three aspects of consumer capitalism which may be addressed by the study of commercial fitness.

Firstly, I address the dialectic between consumer practices and promotional culture: fitness fans consume promotional images of fitness and in many ways take distance from them, realizing their fitness practices. This helps considering both the creativity of consumers and the disciplinary power of commercial institutions. Secondly, I look at the coupling of consumer practices and commercialism: notions such as “choice”, “client”, “professionalism” and “service relations” are played out and re-worked in the gym as a commercial institution.

This helps qualifying the emotion work and modes of relation which are marshalled through consumer culture. Thirdly, I consider how consumer culture works normatively to promote the identity of the “consumer” and how this intersects with other social identities: the parallel between the fit body and the consumer as autonomous chooser is investigated on the backdrop of the field of body modification and maintenance services. This helps considering the notions of both “change” and “authenticity” which are central to consumer capitalism. The paper rounds off with some suggestions about the future direction of research about consumer capitalism
in the Global West.

Roberta Sassatelli is Professor of Sociology at the University of Milan (Italy) where she teaches Consumer Culture, Sociological Theory and Visual Methods. She has previously taught at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) and the University of Bologna (I). Her research focuses on the theory of consumer action and subjectivity, the sociology of consumer practices and the dialectic of market values, and the politics of contemporary consumer culture.  She is also researching leisure and sport, body and emotions, sexuality and gender as well as on visual studies and ethnography. She has done empirical research on ethical consumption, consumer movements, fitness and active leisure, consumption and class boundaries, lifestyles and the economic crisis, fashion and gender, local food and quality food circuits, sharing economy and collaborative consumption. Currently, she is writing a monograph on the sociology of the body and gender. Among her books in English you may find “Consumer Culture. History, Theory and Politics, Sage, 2007; “Fitness Culture. Gyms and the Commercialisation of Discipline and Fun”, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2010 [2014 paperback]. Her last book on the crisis, middle-classes and lifestyles in Italy “Fronteggiare la crisi” has just appeared in Italian (il mulino 2015). She is Editor of the Journal Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia.  Her works are translated into Spanish, Portuguese, German, Greek, Check, Finnish, Polish, Korean and Chinese. She has been visiting fellow at Caltech (US), Birkbeck College (UK), Une (AU) and the University of Gastronomic Sciences [Bra, I].

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