Summary: The Fire of Desire.

The Fire of Desire: A Multisited Inquiry into consumer passion. Russell W. Belk, Guliz Ger & Soren Askegaard The paper argues that “desire is the motivating force behind much of contemporary consumption” yet there are huge amounts of research surrounding the topic but nothing in existence that focuses specifically on desire. It goes into deep discussion about the definition of desire and emphasises that desires are a “hot, passionate emotion quite different from the dispassionate discourse of fulfilling wants and needs”. It goes on to state that we as communicators can be seen as “sorcerers helping to enchant these goods” and consumers act as our apprentices by window shopping, daydreaming and fantasising about goods. When looking at why the consumer doesn’t feel a victim of advertising and marketing strategies the paper focuses on the topic of passionate consumption. It states consumption is becoming more playful and links and differentiates desire from impulse consumption and compulsive consumption. It explains the idea of consumer seduction and how often it is “the object and not the marketer that is the seducer,” and this is an alternative to the “rationality of contemporary society”.  The idea of self gifts is also analysed and compared to compulsive consumption as in both cases the object itself is often secondary compared to the process of obtaining. The journal critically examines other literature that touches upon desire including Campbell (1987) who suggests a cycle in which consumers savor desire as an anticipatory pleasure.  The paper also describes work that studies consumer strategies and efforts to control emotional urges. Other key themes studies in relation to desire in the journal are:
  • Wants and needs
  • Desire within a social template, how our desires are influenced by society
  • The psychoanalytic view of desire as an unconscious longing for material love that was frustrated during childhood and Freuds view that sexual desire is the overarching source for other forms of desire.
  • The Neo-Marxist view that desire drives capitalist consumption
  • The Utilitarian view which dominates economics
  • The Envy theory of needs, we want what others have
  • Envy Deflecting mechanisms, such as sharing
  • Mimetic desire, our rivals desire alerts us to the desirability of an object and the battle for prestige
  • Marker goods, define our belonging to one group rather than another
  • Perpetual near-desire which states the attractive commodity can never fulfill our desires
  • Embracing and controlling desire, including the ideas of nurturing desire, arguing and bargaining with ourselves, dieting and physical activities and indulgence
  • Social control of consumer desire,  the ideas of sin and vice
After covering the topic literature the journal moves onto the method for conducting its research. The research is qualitative and interpretive, collected in Urban environments in Turkey, USA and Denmark. The participants were asked to compete journals describing their specific experiences in desiring things, tell personal stories in semi-structured in depth interviews. They were also asked to complete projective tasks involving collage construction. There were an equal mix of males and females and they were most often young and middle class. The finding were lengthy and really interesting, the first set of findings included:
  • All participants freely associated desire with other contructs such as admiration and, intense wanting and longing.
  • Desire is experienced as an intense and highly positive emotion
  • In some cases desire was related to interpersonal experiences
  • Craving was frequently used synonym
  • Desire was often depicted as a pleasurable bodily sensation
  • Contrasting desire with wants, desire was more intense, profound and motivating
  • Desire is linked to fantasies
  • Although desire is overwhelmingly positive in can also be unpleasant if we are “enslaved” by it
  • Within Turkey some of the older and lower income informants felt that they could not entertain desire
  • With consumer desire beyond hope, some feel they do not have a life
  • Desire can promise a transformation
  • Desires can recreate our image or recollection of a prior state of bliss
  • Desire can be nostalgic
  • Desire is overwhelmingly underwritten by interpersonal responses from other people
  • Desire is felt internally but is ultimately social
  • Desire opposes socially valued qualities of reason, rationality and self control
  • Many of the participants described “desiring like a child”
  • The connection with desire and addiction
  • Desire is enhanced by the difficulty or improbability of obtaining the desired object
  • Distance keeps desire alive, but only so long as there is hope
The second set of findings focused on the cycle of desire, how it is cultivated and how we feel if we succeed or fail to obtain our desire with special attention to the idea of hope. The paper looks at the success and failures of its own research and the implications on future research. In conclusion this journal is thorough, easy to read and full of interesting accounts and stories from the participants. It also opens the readers mind and really informs them on the idea of desire, in addition it sparked areas of interest around areas of future research which need to be conducted.      


Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University