Authors: Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Marie Hebrok
This paper explores narratives of product longevity expressed by businesses and consumers, with the aim of illuminating and comparing ways in which the two stakeholder groups express their engagement with products in the context of prolonging their lifespans. We base our analysis on consumer focus groups and interviews with company representatives. Our focus is on textiles (incl. clothing) and furniture. We find that technical and emotional durability are the two dominant ways of understanding product longevity by company representatives. Consumers, however, tell a different story, of living with their things, of use, of time passing, and of life events triggering change. This is a context in which social and systemic factors play a large role in determining the lifespan of a product – factors that are external to the product itself. Although all can agree on the importance of technical durability, problems connected to excessive production volumes and how products feature in everyday life are avoided in narratives produced by business actors. We argue that corporate narratives of product longevity are diverting our attention away from production toward consumption, keeping questions of volume and growth at arm’s length. These conflict with consumer narratives of product longevity that grapple with the materiality of the things within the context of lived lives in a consumer economy.