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Identity, Class and Contemporary Contexts

It has been widely noted by many who know me well how binary I can be  – that is, I am prone to extreme moods, fancies, etc. Most of the time I don’t even realise this but it struck me symbolically whilst organising some recent photographs. I could split photographs featuring myself in two distinct categories. I was either wearing ripped jeans, heavy metal hoodies and flannelette shirts with my hair pushed in a messy ponytail. Or I had full makeup, manicured platinum blonde curls and the Marilyn Monroe look with either a fussy frilly structured dress or a neat business casual outfit. It was rather perplexing. Who the hell was I? And if I didn’t know, how were others meant to know? Was this endemic of the fabled late modern identity crises? Or simply, as friends would jokingly point out, an ‘Anoushka problem’?

We live in a world of multiple roles (parent, sister, daughter, wife, friend, boss, colleague etc), confusing messages that identity can be worn and discarded like clothes (the ‘sex kitten’ that one’s partner likes is hidden in the proverbial closet when Mum comes over for tea and cake!) and perhaps most importantly, within an advanced capitalist system with a sophisticated consumer culture that also sends many messages regarding self-authenticity and identity. Social media allows us to carefully construct an ideal self alongside these contradictions, perhaps worsening our crises. Many wring their hands over a supposed explosion in narcissism and self-absorption, which over-simplifies the very human social need to be accepted and liked.

These phenomena do not allow for a straightforward and fluid narrative. However, as I am exploring in my thesis, there are some cultural codes that are becoming embedded in global contexts – and potentially, emerging as a globalized linguistic sign. Such as the luxury symbol. Regardless of language spoken, the luxury brand symbol, some makes/models and styles, are recognizable across linguistic barriers and sociocultural lines. For example, luxury goods are experiencing strong demand in China – and a show of the ‘right’ clothing, watch or bag when doing international business may engender more trust or a display of power/class than carefully chosen translated words. This could explain how ruling classes dominate in civil societies; how power is shown symbolically without the show or suggestion of violence or force. This may even assist us in moving towards understanding why the lower classes fawn over the elites like giddy tweens at a One Direction concert.

Social identity is a shifting construct that moves, often depending on who you want to see it – a ‘conspicuous consumption’. I would not wear my jeans and shirt to get a bank loan or do anything professionally related. This is likely related to class-positioning – or my cultural capital, if you will. My mother was brought up in a upper-middle class home with old-fashioned bourgeois values and manners; which she pushed on to my brother and I. My father was raised by his traditionalist Scottish-British grandparents whilst his radio star mother flitted around the world and his father drank himself stupid. To say I was raised with old-fashioned cultural values is an understatement – and admittedly, this accumulation of cultural capital is something that often benefits me. As I examine my thesis data that shows how wealth keeps compounding at the top of society, despite the quantity of social theories proposed since, I return to Veblen and Bourdieu, because few theorists describe the symbolic power of class and capital better. People can often guess if you are not ‘one of them’, regardless of how well you may imitate them. Masks slip, or prove to never be very good anyway.

Returning to the problem of self-authenticity, it may be debatable whether it is even an issue for sociology to be concerned with. There exists a body of work in philosophy and the psychological sciences that treats the issue rather extensively. It is doubtlessly a bourgeois puzzle – an existential self-query that troubles the caricatured ivory tower academic.  Recently, I have come to realize that I like a lot of ‘stuff’ that I probably should not dedicate my scholarly career to studying. For me, an onus exists for the sociologist to interrogate society, locate it’s problems and legitimize discussion about urgent issues such as socioeconomic inequality – unpacking this to causes, drivers and results. Writing about phantasmagoria and culture is enjoyable; but not particularly socially important. To utilize a Marxian term, it provides little ‘use value’. As what can be considered Australian society extends via technology and markets, the sociologist is pressured to keep up with the reflexive social changes and the constant shifts in winners and losers of this transformation. This is no small challenge…

Remembrance of Things Past: The Misty Wraith of Lost Time




Lost time. Things past. Echoing memories, sensations, twinges and the ghost of muddled emotions. What we believe happened – but in reality, nothing but extant feelings. Sometimes, what happened alongside dreams, stories and histories from the lives of others. I mean for this post to be unabashedly Proustian – with a rambling narration that reflects on life lived – or, what may have happened. Because, in the aftermath, all we have of lost time resides in our imaginations. The imagination, as our scientifically rationalist society may argue, cannot be trusted for accuracy. Phenomenology as an academic discipline battles for epistemological respect in the social sciences – the rigor of the personal experience is questioned.


As we travel through our life course, we rely on memories, histories and stories, often without interrogating the architects of their construction. Nietzsche (and Foucault, among others) has problematized meta-history in his Genealogy theory, which argues that history is written by individuals with certain interests and privileges. Shared accounts of events recalled may conflict with one’s own recollection. And stories are notoriously slippery and difficult to grasp. Do these thoughts render one’s memories untrustworthy – or do they imbue times past with new vibrancy and meaning?


I know, when I recall some emotionally difficult times, these memories and thoughts are coloured dramatically by emotions, latter reflections and realisations. I might immerse myself in a memory and transport myself to the time past, my imagination conjuring images, smells, sounds and emotions. I can stop, rewind and skip parts. Sometimes, I change outcomes, taking the role of movie director or god. In one’s memory, unlike in reality, control over circumstances is perfect and untouchable.  If unpleasant emotions or images invade our fantasy, we can block them, erase them. The continual practice of interrogating the past and analysing one’s self sees the integrity of memory blur. However, due to our subjectivity and personal ontological positioning, a perfect and accurate recording of lost time can never be attained. It is literally time that is lost; only unreliable simulacra float in our imaginations, stories that tell us who we are and where we have come from. Does this render a narrative of identity and personal history obsolete? Or does it give us the existential freedom to keep trying to get things right; a second chance to soothe uncomfortable feelings and rationalise bewildering events?




The Semiotics of Ageing in Advertising: Our changing discussion on age

:: Culture Decanted ::

“Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all.”

Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics

Getting long in the tooth

This is the second part of an analysis of concepts of ageing and immortality in modern times.   The first part looked at the mythology of immortality, its prominence as a central theme of the first written story in history to its rise to dominance within Hollywood storylines.   Over time there has been a shift in how we look at immortality, from it being the provenance of deities and mythological races that are immortal because of eating and drinking magical fruits or drinks, to the contemporary obsession with eating another’s life to be immortal, fantastically brought…

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Publications in your PhD

The Thesis Whisperer

I often get asked whether it’s a good idea to publish papers during your PhD. The answer is a bit of a no brainer:  Yes.  You should. But I feel like a bit of a fraud when I give this answer because I didn’t publish very much during my PhD. I was too busy trying to finish it in 3 years and writing papers seemed like a distraction. I wanted people to use my work of course, but I only wrote one paper after I finished then put the thesis in the online repository before I turned my attention to back my job – and building this blog.

On reflection, I wish I had not taken such a laissez faire attitude to publishing during my PhD. Sure, I got my degree quickly, but the chickens are coming home to roost now that I want to get into the grant application…

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