Shopping dreams: Oneiric imagination, consumption, and identity projects among US young adults

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Scholars working in consumer culture studies have long recognized the significance of the imagination in directing consumption. Largely unconsidered in such studies, however, is nighttime dreaming, a state of consciousness in which consumers regularly engage with the meanings, materialities, identity projects, and objective structures associated with consumption. Synthesizing insights from the anthropology of dreaming with emerging models in the neurosciences, we enlarge discussions of the imagination by examining young US women’s dreams about consumption. Contrary to the Freudian notion that dreams are a-historical and limited to intrapsychic concerns, we demonstrate that dreams realistically simulate the routine, cognitive, multisensory, social, and culturally enframed experiences of waking life. Dreamers do more, however, than mechanically rehearse consumption activities—they also often ponder dimensions of consumer culture that trouble them, including inequalities related to social class, gender, and race. In the oblique mode of oneiric subjectivity, they thereby sometimes advance a commentary on the larger cultural arenas in which daytime consumption is performed. Dreaming, we argue, offers a novel lens through which to surface intimate and highly textured aspects of consumer consciousness that are otherwise difficult to scrutinize. Our analysis thus responds to recent calls in consumer studies for expanding the project of probing consumers’ imaginative states and their implicit and emergent moral dispositions.




Sheriff, R. E., & Chin, E. J. (2022). Shopping dreams: Oneiric imagination, consumption, and identity projects among US young adults. Journal of Consumer Culture, 22(2), 378–397.

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