Growing in Motion: The Circulation of Used Things on Second-hand Markets


  • Staffan Appelgren School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Anna Bohlin School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden



Second-hand, circulation, material culture, retro, vintage, growing, gifts, commodities


From having been associated with poverty and low status, the commerce with second-hand goods in retro shops, flea markets, vintage boutiques and trade via Internet is expanding in Sweden as in many countries in the Global North. This article argues that a significant aspect of the recent interest in second-hand and reuse concerns the meaning fulness of circulation in social life. Using classic anthropological theory on how the circulation of material culture generates sociality, it focuses on how second-hand things are transformed by their circulation. Rather than merely having cultural biographies, second-hand things are reconfigured through their shifts between different social contexts in a process that here is understood as a form of growing. Similar to that of an organism, this growth is continuous, irreversible and dependent on forces both internal and external to it. What emerges is a category of things that combine elements of both commodities and gifts, as these have been theorized within anthropology. While first cycle commodities are purified of their sociality, the hybrid second-hand thing derives its ontological status as well as social and commercial value precisely from retaining ‘gift qualities’, produced by its circulation.


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Theme: Circulating Stuff through Second-hand, Vintage and Retro Markets