Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement: Practice at the Nexus of Consumption and Production — ASN Events

Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement: Practice at the Nexus of Consumption and Production (15014)

Michael Mackay , Harvey C Perkins 1
  1. University of Auckland, Auckland Central, AUCKL, New Zealand

Accounts of liquid modernity and the rise of consumer society provide insight into the significance of consumption and shopping in everyday life. Such accounts, however, do very little to help us understand what people actually do with the commodities they buy. Our practice-based study of the do-it-yourself home improvement (or “DIY”) activities of 27 Christchurch homeowners is useful in this respect. Consumption is an inescapable aspect of DIY as one cannot think to participate in renovation projects without consuming tools and materials (drills, nails, wallpaper etc.). We show that beyond ‘shopping’ for DIY products there exists an important cluster of productive human actions encompassing practical skills and abilities, innovative thinking, creativity, emotions, conversations and ‘teamwork’. While our research participants certainly engaged in the world as consumers, they also took the role and identity of ‘producers’ which involved them actively making their own homes and gardens. Albeit important, consumption emerges as just one component of a bundle of activities through which people reflexively, actively and creatively engage in and also (re)produce their social and material worlds, while simultaneously ‘building’ and maintaining their identities.

Notes • Barnett et al. (2011) suggest that while consumption (as shopping) certainly precedes peoples’ practices and, for that reason, is important to understand, studies of the former too frequently lose sight of what goes on past the shop counter, a criticism lodged as early as 1984 by Michel de Certeau in his writing about the nature of “consumer production” in The Practice of Everyday Life. • While Bauman’s theoretical work does provide a useful backdrop for understanding DIY activity as an expression of modern day (identity-related) ‘consumption’, it does very little to move us towards an understanding of the ‘productive’ elements of DIY i.e., how, within the structural conditions of our time, people actually make their “DIYed homes” and for what purpose. Given these shortcomings, we utilise the emerging literature on social practice which helps demonstrate that people (DIYers in the context of this paper) are both consumers and producers, in the sense that while they must engage in the marketplace, they also actively construct their worlds – DIY activity one expression of this dialectical process. A practice-based interpretation of our primary data revealed three key principles of DIY activity (involving both consumption and production, or ‘prosuming’ to borrow Ritzer’s (2009) term): ‘personalising’ the home, ‘adapting’ the home and ‘enjoying’ the home (as a site of work).