Summary: Dealing in Secondhand Goods: Creating Meaning And Value

Author: Liz Parsons This was a very interesting and thought provoking paper which focussed on secondhand goods, and the ways dealers create and maintain meaning to the objects that they buy and sell. The introduction highlights that second hand goods, such as antiques, and vintage clothing for example are distant from the ‘formal marketing’ such as PR and advertising that new goods have. Because of this the dealers, are able to ‘create values’ which may or may be not be dependant on the object’s ‘cultural biography (Kopytoff 1986) and the histories of past possession. This made me then think back to a discussion from the previous seminar where an old photo may only be of value when resold if the people in the photo and a particular history or ‘fame’. The paper itself focuses on the important role dealers play in creating value in secondhand goods. They clean, restore and display objects so that it makes them more valuable to customers, and they also have a wide knowledge of the market they specialize in which makes the value of the item subjective to the dealer’s knowledge of it. The passion of the dealers is highlighted in the study of 19 secondhand dealers where interviews took place. Many of the antique dealers highlighted that it was not just a job – it was also a hobby, and they tended to invest time and capital in building up and having a strong knowledge of the that particular specialism. This could be compared in contrast to sales assistants at ‘new good’ stores who in general do not have a vested passion in the stock they are selling and who could be argued are not creating meaning in their goods but this needs to be explored further! This intimacy that the dealers had with their stock emphasised the value they created for the objects they were meaning to sell. There was a tactile relationship with the objects (touching/smelling), as well as the knowledge previously mentioned, all of which exemplified the subjectivity and personal aspect that secondhand dealers had in the consumption process. Overall I found this article very interesting to read, and I agree with Parsons that a further long-term ethnographic study could be done in order to see what dealers actually ‘do’ to sell the goods and also what their customers think of the objects they buy/meanings that are incorporated.  

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Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University