consumer language

   The crucial element of consumer language is the relationship between the providers of goods and services and the users of such products, and how this relationship is described by the providers and others. Basically, new views of the producerconsumer relationship have led to a number of terms and ideas being created. These have taken a number of forms, but essentially these shifts in terminology with respect to consumers of goods and services have been part of a wider political realignment of the status of the providers of such goods. Whereas there was previously a sharp distinction between the private and public sectors, such lines have now become more blurred as the effects of privatization upon parts of the public sector has become more apparent. This has led to an altered view of the consumers of services, at least with respect to the terminology. Prime examples of such practices can be found within sectors as diverse as higher education, where students have became consumers (a move likely to be exacerbated by the imposition of tuition fees in 1998), and the railways, where passengers have been redefined as clients or consumers of each rail service provider. This phenomenon is, however, not only predicated on the privatization policies of the Thatcher government. In areas such as football, spectators have changed from being ‘fans’ or supporters into a more ephemeral description of ‘customers’, with traditional values of fan loyalty being replaced by a more distinct emphasis on consumerism. This has been fuelled by a marketing boom which has sought to develop off-field sales (for example, Manchester United plc makes as much money from shop merchandise sales as from gate receipts).
   The change in language has been most starkly seen with the election of the Labour government in 1997, where economic and social ‘stakeholding’ has emerged as a concept which may be applied through the private and public sectors and beyond. Consumers have a ‘stake’ in those businesses from which they buy goods and services, in tandem with the employees who work for the organization. However, in addition to this, the wider community is deemed to have a stake in the organization, thus emphasizing the tripartite nature of the economy. There is a cynical temptation to see this linguistic repackaging as being part of a tendency to ‘put old wines in new bottles’.
   GUY OSBORN
   STEVE GREENFIELD

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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