Possessions as stock – research paper overview

Becci Dive, Bournemouth University An overview of: Denegri-Knott, J. and Molesworth, M. 2009. ‘I’ll sell this and I’ll buy them that’: Ebay and the management of possessions as stock. Journal of Consumer Behaviour 8(6): 305–315 As a population of consumers, this paper investigates the transitions possessions take in the eyes of their owner as they come to the end of their relationship with the goods, and the chain of actions that lead to this transition. Using eBay as a focal point for this based on the encouragement it omits for people to cast a mercantile on their belongings. The paper begins by discussing the act of disposal of possessions and how the owners reach a valuation for the item; Belk (1988) and Young and Wallendorf (1988) noted that when meaningful possessions are being disposed of the owner will mourn the article and rid themselves of any unwanted associations with the past or with others (McCracken, 1988); alternatively, a positive meaning can be maintained once a suitable new owner is found (Price et al, 2000). For owners to remove private meanings from the possessions it would not be uncommon for cleaning, mending and repackaging to take place to re-imbue it imagined economic values and associated public meanings (Gregson et al, 2007; McCracken, 1988; Parsons, 2006). When it comes to determining the value of the possession, Denegri-Knott and Molesworth note that the owners ability to set implied exchange values can hinge upon their understanding of the economic value of the good itself. They also draw upon Gregson et als (2007) theory that the act of establishing exchange value has been seen as ‘thoroughly reflexive’ and draws on ‘specific meaning frameworks’ to determine how to divest. Denegri-Knott and Molesworth recognise the importance of context when considering the disposal and valuation of goods; Apadurai (1986) included context and social arenas as ‘key in accentuating and crystalising the value of goods’, enhanced by Gregson et al (2007) who highlighted car boot sales and retro shops as space seen to structure exchange relations. The paper then expanded on the concept of framing; once the item is in the space as designated by those divesting, it is open to different means of framing and negotiating value, and the context products are viewed in on eBay can impact its framing as procedures may frame an item as more valuable than if it were presented on a notice board. A key focal point of the research paper is that of goods as stock, ‘what an owned good becomes once its exchange values have been recognised and reactivated by its owner in preparation for sale on eBay’ (Denegri-Knott, J. and Molesworth, M. 2009). This transition requires actions such as monitoring on eBay as a comparison to that which is soon to be sold, the activation of commodity values and the products associated public meanings to move them into the domain of “commodity exchange” (Denegri-Knott, J. and Molesworth, M. 2009). The study continues to propose eBay encourages through enabling the act of promiscuous consumption within the modern consumer – a casual, opportunistic, short lived relationship with goods to add variety, or to act as a sample before committing to long term ownership. A major part of the paper is dedicated to the work demanded of those divesting, broken down into three main areas: valuing stock, preparing stock for sale and marketing stock. It recognises that reading an owned possession as stock requires the activation of frameworks of meaning, through which the objects economic value may be seen. Gregson’s (2003, 2007) work on valuation showed it could often go further than aesthetics; if goods were seasonal, had been on the press, seen on a celebrity, these factors were incorporated to determine their economic value. Sellers also spent time continuously building on existing knowledge to ensure an items value was read properly creating an additional layer of work in transforming them into ‘expert sellers’ (Denegri-Knott, J. and Molesworth, M. 2009). As previously covered, the owner works to restore original value to the product through cleaning, mending and packaging, however stock management is also raised; it is at this stage that goods values can be classified with most clarity, so the items deemed to be worth more receive more attention, for example washing and ironing clothes, than those deemed to have little economic value. The paper weights more time from the owner in the marketing of the stock that any other area; this could be laborious and complex as research is undertaken, tactics implemented to undercut competitors and the inclusion of persuasive advertisements. Differing from, for example, a car boot sale, where the framing of value is limited to table top positioning (Belk et al, 1988), eBay allows framing similar to those of retro shops where goods are more obviously encoded as desirable commodities (Gregson et al, 2007). Denegri-Knott and Molesworth (2009) conclude this point with the theory that how goods are marketing, how much time will be invested in describing the goods and how many photos will be used is a decision framed by normative considerations of value. To conclude, this paper introduces the idea of eBay as a space for disposal and the investment needed from the owner for this disposal; unlike other papers however, Denegri-Knott and Molesworth view investment in this context not to ensure successful detachment of meaning, but in the ‘work’ put into maximising the products exchange value, contrasting to the mental effort put into the objects. The question is then raised as to whether people put the same effort into owning their belongings as they do selling them. The paper questions eBays own marketing angle that it works to improve the environment through being a simple avenue to dispose of unwanted goods, however the website itself fuels consumption activities, which is raised as an encouragement for accelerated consumer desire. The final argument raised with the papers findings is that eBay ‘professionalises’ divestment to such an extent that the owner spends more time determining the language in their advertising and the economic value rather than focusing on any emotional attachment.

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    Janice Denegri Knott


    From here, I wonder if there are broader considerations to deal with, for instance to consider the inherent ambiguity of objects within the context of the home, that at a particular time are seen both personal possessions and potentially valuable commodities. Are there other contexts where we are faced with ambiguity, and how is ambiguity resolved if it is?

    There is also this notion of promiscuous consumption that Mike and I considered in the paper, in terms of the acceleration of cycles of consumption and their aftermath. I have accounted with some of the problems of acceleration in a forthcoming paper with Detlev Zwick. However, there is scope to consider promiscuity in consumption, both theoretically and empirically.

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Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University