There can be nothing more trivial than a visit to a shopping mall. However, this everyday routine can be seen differently by different people. For some, it can be a torture and for some it can be a way to overcome depression. For a sociologist, this can be a kind of Eldorado where almost all sociological concepts and theories can be observed. The sociologist should not even have that much of sociological imagination as all trends are obvious. Of course, the observer should exploit a beginner’s mind to trace peculiarities of people’s behavior.
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Therefore, to start an observation in a shopping mall, one should forget about everything and disregard the “treasures” displayed there. It is necessary to sit and observe. At this point, it is necessary to note that observation is one of the most appropriate research methods to employ at a shopping mall as a researcher can observe people’s behavior in a natural setting. Thus, people do not even know they are being observed and they do not try to change their typical behavioral patterns.
One of the most observable sociological concepts in the shopping mall is Herbert Spencer’s idea of evolution. This idea is based on the well-known Darwin’s theory. The abundance of sales in a shopping mall makes it similar to a jungle where the fittest survives, or gets what he/she wants.
The fittest in a shopping mall is the one who knows where the sales are, is aware of the opening hours, knows what exactly he/she wants to buy and how to access the item at the unprecedented pace. These “kings and queens of the jungles” obtain the best items at best prices. The rest of the shoppers who are not that fit have to content themselves with less valuable items.
Of course, people’s inability to make use of sales will not lead to the extinction of the species. However, the ability to shop during sales makes people a bit different, and, perhaps, even superior in certain strata of the human society or community. It is possible to see the kings and the less fit in the shops’ doors.
First, the kings are more confident when they come into the shop and they are delighted when they leave it. Less fit shoppers are not very confident or even at a loss when they enter the shop and they are often unsatisfied with their purchases. Thus, Spencer’s idea is revealed at the shops’ doors.
Another sociological concept which can be traced in a shopping mall is a conflict theory. According to Karl Marx, human society is nothing more than a constant conflict between capitalists and proletariat. The thinker also stressed that people had struggled for resources for centuries.
Marx believed that workers would someday become the rulers of the world. Again, sales reveal this kind of conflict as well. Thus, people who cannot afford something try to “win” the product they need during sales. Again, people oppose each other and there are often quarrels in such shops.
I was lucky to witness a quarrel of two girls who came together smiling and chatting, but went out of the shop frowning. This situation verifies that there is a constant conflict. Marx was too concerned with classes, which distracted his attention from the very nature of people. Shopping malls show that the conflict is not confined to classes, but conflict is people’s constant struggle for resources. Of course, it is impossible to state that Marx was totally wrong as the conflict between certain classes is also represented at shopping malls.
The situation in shopping malls confirms that critical theory is a bit more comprehensive than that of Marx. According to the critical theory, mass culture perpetuates capitalist domination. The abundance of luxury boutiques is an illustration of this domination.
Shopping malls are full of ads promoting luxury products. People can see those products in high-profile boutiques. However, only rich people can afford these luxury items. The conflict is apparent as the majority of people strive for having those products. Thus, I observed many people strolling along the shop windows or even inside luxury boutiques. Obviously, they could not afford buying the products, but sometimes such people bought some of those luxury items.
Therefore, they worked harder during certain period of time to obtain the resource they wanted. Eventually, some of these people obtain the resource they want. This situation common for shopping malls is illustrative as this conflict often leads to quite drastic changes. Eventually, people can become wealthier and start shopping at luxury boutiques only. Likewise, certain groups in the society can also obtain privileged position.
Apart from the conflict theory, certain concepts of structural functionalism can also be found at shopping malls. Again, sales can be seen as the most suggestive examples of one of sociological concepts. Sales have become a part of people’s collective consciousness. These venues can be regarded as a kind of ritual. Sales are often associated with some kind of craze. Shoppers follow the general flow of people and start buying things they never wanted and would never buy in ordinary settings. More so, even without any sales people do follow some sort of collective behavioral patterns.
Many people think that only some sport games or religious rituals can turn people into zombies. Nonetheless, visiting a shopping mall can also turn people into zombies for certain period of time. Thus, some gatherings (promo activities, advertising campaigns, etc.) attracts people’s attention and shoppers are eager to participate in a variety of activities to win something they do not need or do not even want. People can hardly resist this temporary craze. Obviously, collective consciousness does work at shopping malls, and sellers make use of it.
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Of course, a variety of other sociological concepts can be traced at a shopping mall. It took me only several hours of observation to trace the most noticeable concepts. A bit deeper research can provide valuable insights into microsociological as well as macrosociological theories.
Therefore, it is possible to state that a shopping mall can be regarded as one of the most “spectacular” sites for a sociologist. Any boutique or even a parking area turns into a jungle where people try to become the “fittest”. More so, a couple of days at a shopping mall during sales can be regarded as an illustration of the history of human society.
The evolution of the societies can be traced when observing people trying to get the best bargain. It becomes clear that conflict theory is the most comprehensive concept which helps to understand people’s behavior. Thus, people are in a constant chase for certain resources they find valuable. Those who “win the race” can evolve and penetrate into a group of privileged people, while the rest have to constantly participate in the rat race.