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Low-income families and coping through brands : inclusion or stigma?

Hamilton, Kathy (2012) Low-income families and coping through brands : inclusion or stigma? Sociology, 46 (1). pp. 74-90. ISSN 0038-0385

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Abstract

This article highlights the paradoxical coping strategies employed by low-income families. Based on in-depth interviews with 30 families in the UK, it is demonstrated that individuals initiate strategies to avoid the social effects of stigmatization and alleviate threats to social identity. In particular, families engage in conspicuous consumption, with emphasis on ensuring children have access to the 'right' brands. This can be interpreted in two opposing ways. Low-income consumers, in particular single mothers, may be understood as coping within the challenging context of consumer culture to improve the standard of living for their families. However, drawing on underclass discourse surrounding 'chav' culture and single mothers, it is demonstrated that the coping strategies employed to achieve approval in fact fuel further stigmatization and instead of creating inclusion have the opposite outcome of exclusion and marginalization.