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.


Albinsson, Pia A. & B. Yasanthi Perera (2009): ‘From Trash to Treasure and Beyond: The Meaning of Voluntary Disposition’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 8:6, 340-353. doi: 10.1002/cb.301

Alexander, Catherine & Joshua Reno (eds) (2012): Economies of Recycling: The Global Transformations of Materials, Values and Social Relations, London: Zed Books.

Appadurai, Arjun (1986): ‘Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value’, Arjun Appadurai (ed): The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Appadurai, Arjun (2006): ‘The Thing Itself’, Public Culture, 18:1, 15-21. doi: 10.1215/08992363-18-1-15

Arnold, Jeanne E. (2013): ‘Mountain of Things’, Elinor Ochs & Tamar Kremer-Sadlik (eds): Fast-Forward Family: Home, Work, and Relationships in Middle-Class America, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Baker, Sarah Elsie (2013) Retro Style: Class, Gender and Design in the Home, London & New York: Bloomsbury.

Bauman, Zygmunt (1998/2005): Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Bauman, Zygmunt (2007): Consuming Life, Polity Press: Cambridge and Malden.

Bell, Joshua A. & Haidy Geismar (2009): ‘Materialising Oceania: New ethnographies of things in Melanesia and Polynesia’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 20, 3–27. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-6547.2009.00001.x

Binkley, Sam (2000): ‘Kitsch as a Repetitive System: A Problem for the Theory of Taste Hierarchy’, Journal of Material Culture, 5:2, 131-152. doi: 10.1177/135918350000500201

Binkley, Sam (2009): ‘The Bohemian Habitus: New Social Theory and Political Consumerism’, Kate Soper, Martin Ryle & Lyn Thomas (eds): The Politics and Pleasures of Consuming Differently, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Botsman, Rachel & Roo Rogers (2010): What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, New York: HarperCollins.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1977): Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511812507

Brace-Govan, Jan & Itir Binay (2010): ‘Consumption of Disposed Goods for Moral Identities: A Nexus of Organization, Place, Things and Consumers’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 9:1, 69-82.

Cassidy, Tracy Diane & Hannah Rose Bennett (2012): ‘The Rise of Vintage Fashion and the Vintage Consumer’, Fashion Practice, 4: 2, 239-262.

Cheetham, Fiona (2009): ‘Out of control? An Ethnographic Analysis of the Disposal of Collectable Objects through Auction’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 8:6, 316-326. doi: 10.1002/cb.296

Crewe, Louise, Nicky Gregson & Kate Brooks (2003): ‘The Discursivities of Difference: Retro retailers and the ambiguities of “the alternative”‘, Journal of Consumer Culture, 3:1, 61–82. doi: 10.1177/1469540503003001931

Cultural Anthropology (2002): Special Issue Value in Circulation, 17:3.

Czarniawska Barbara & Orvar Löfgren (eds) (2012): Managing Overflow in Affluent Societies, New York & Abingdon: Routledge.

Czarniawska Barbara & Orvar Löfgren (eds) (2013): Coping with Excess: How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflow, Cheltenham and Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

de Jode, Martin, Ralph Barthel, Jon Rogers, Angelina Karpovich, Andrew Hudson-Smith, Michael Quigley & Chris Speed (2012): ‘Enhancing the “Second-hand” Retail Experience with Digital Object Memories’, Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, New York, 451-460. doi: 10.1145/2370216.2370284

Douglas, Mary & Baron Isherwood (1979): ‪The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption, London: Allen Lane.

Eiss, Paul K. & David Pedersen (2002): ‘Introduction: Values of Value’, Cultural Anthropology, 17, 283–290. doi: 10.1525/can.2002.17.3.283

Ekström Karin M., Eva Gustafsson, Daniel Hjelmgren & Nicklas Salomonson (2012): Mot En Mer Hållbar Konsumtion: En studie om konsumenters anskaffning och avyttring av kläder, Rapport nr 20. Borås: Högskolan i Borås.

Epp, Amber M. & Linda L. Price (2010): ‘The Storied Life of Singularized Objects: Forces of Agency and Network Transformation’, Journal of Consumer Research, 36:5, 820-837. doi: 10.1086/603547

Feigenbaum, Gail & Inge Reist (2013): Provenance: An Alternate History of Art. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.

Ferry, Elizabeth Emma (2002): ‘Inalienable Commodities: The Production and Circulation of Silver and Patrimony in a Mexican Mining Cooperative’, Cultural Anthropology, 17:3, 331-358. doi: 10.1525/can.2002.17.3.331

Foster, Robert J. (2006): ‘Tracking Globalization: Commodities and Value in Motion’, Tilley, Christopher, Kiane Webb, Susanne Küchler, Mike Rowlands & Patricia Spyer (eds): Handbook of Material Culture, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Foster, Robert J (2008a): ‘Commodities, Brands, Love and Kula: Comparative Notes on Value Creation’, Anthropological Theory, 8:1, 9–25. doi: 10.1177/1463499607087492

Foster, Robert J (2008b): Coca-Globalization: Following Soft Drinks from New York to New Guinea, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/9780230610170

Franklin, Adrian (2011): ‘The Ethics of Second Hand Consumption’, Tania Lewis & Emily Potter (eds): Ethical Consumption: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge.

Fredriksson, Cecilia (1996): ‘Loppmarknader och ruiner. Om loppmarknadens estetik’, Ingrid Nordström & Renée Valerie (eds): Tycke och smak. Sju etnologer om estetik, Stockholm: Carlssons.

Fredriksson, Cecilia (2010): ‘E-handelns virtuella etnografi: om förtroende och tillit på Tradera’, Nätverket, 17, 33-59.

Fredriksson, Cecilia (2013): ‘Second-Hand Values and the Making of a Green Fashion Eco-Market’, Lena Hansson, Ulrika Holmberg & Helene Brembeck (eds): Making Sense of Consumption, Göteborg: Centre for Consumer Science, Gothenburg University.

Geertz, Clifford (1973): ‘Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture’, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, New York: Basic Books.

Geertz, Clifford (1978): ‘The Bazaar Economy: Information and Search in Peasant Marketing’, American Economic Review, 68:2, 28-32.

Gell, Alfred (1998): Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Graeber, David (2001): Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, New York: Palgrave. doi: 10.1057/9780312299064

Gregory, Chris A. (1982): Gifts and Commodities, London: Academic Press.

Gregson, Nicky (2007): Living with Things: Ridding, Accommodatiion, Dwelling, Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing.

Gregson, Nicky & Louise Crewe (2003): Second-Hand Cultures, Oxford: Berg. doi: 10.2752/9781847888853

Gregson, Nicky Alan Metcalfe & Louise Crewe (2007): Moving things along: The Conduits and Practices of Divestment in Consumption, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32:3, 187-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2007.00253.x

Gregson, Nicky & Mike Crang (2010): ‘Materiality and Waste: Inorganic Vitality in a Networked World’. Environment & Planning A, 42, 1026-1032. doi: 10.1068/a43176

Gregson, Nicky, M. Crang, M, Ahamed, F., Akhtar, N. & Ferdous, R. (2010): ‘Following Things of Rubbish Value: End-of-life ships, ‘Chock-chocky’ Furniture and the Bangladeshi Middle Class Consumer, Geoforum, 41, 846-854. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2010.05.007

Guit, Denis & Roux Dominique (2010): ‘A Second-hand Shoppers’ Motivation Scale: Antecedents, Consequences, and Implications for Retailers’, Journal of Retailing, 86:4, 355-371. doi: 10.1016/j.jretai.2010.08.002

Hetherington Kevin (2004): ‘Secondhandedness: Consumption, Disposal, and Absent Presence’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22:1, 157-173. doi: 10.1068/d315t

Hoskins, Janet (1998): Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives, London and New York: Routledge.

Hoskins, Janet (2006): ‘Agency, Biography and Objects’, Tilley, Christopher, Kiane Webb, Susanne Küchler, Mike Rowlands & Patricia Spyer (eds): The Handbook of Material Culture, London: Sage.

Humphrey, Caroline & Stephen Hugh-Jones (1992): Barter, Exchange and Value: An Anthropological Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511607677

Ingold Tim (2007): ‘Materials against materiality’, Archaeological Dialogues 14, 1-16. doi: 10.1017/S1380203807002127

Ingold, Tim & Elizabeth Hallam (2014): ‘Making and Growing: An Introduction’, Elizabeth Hallam & Tim Ingold (eds): Making and Growing: Anthropological Studies of Organisms and Artefacts, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Jenss, Heike (2004): ‘Dressed in History: Retro Styles and the Construction of Authenticity in Youth Culture’, Fashion Theory, 8:4, 387-404. doi: 10.2752/136270404778051591

Kopytoff, Igor (1986): ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process’, Arjun Appadurai (ed): The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Larkin, Brian (2013): ‘The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 42, 327-343. doi: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-092412-155522

Lastovicka, John L. & Karen V. Fernandez (2005): ‘Three Paths to Disposition: The Movement of Meaningful Possessions to Strangers’, Journal of Consumer Research, 31:4, 813-823. doi: 10.1086/426616

Law, John & Annemarie Mol (2001): ‘Situating technoscience: An Inquiry into Spatialities’, Environment and Planning D. Society and Space, 19, 609-621. doi: 10.1068/d243t

Lee, Benjamin & Edward LiPuma (2002): ‘Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity’, Public Culture, 14:1, 191–214. doi: 10.1215/08992363-14-1-191

Liimatainen, Merja (2014): V.I.N.T.A.G.E: Om kläder, kvinnor och kulturarv, MA thesis, Department of Cultural Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

Löfgren, Orvar (2012): ‘It’s Simply too Much! Coping with Domestic Overflow’, Barbara Czarniawska & Orvar Löfgren (eds): Managing Overflow in Affluent Societies, New York and Abingdon: Routledge.

Malinowski, Bronislaw (1920): ‘Kula; the Circulating Exchange of Valuables in the Archipelagoes of Eastern New Guinea’, Man, 20:20, 97–105. doi: 10.2307/2840430

Malinowski, Bronislaw (1922): Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea, London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd.

Mauss, Marcel (1950/1990): The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, London: Routledge.

McRobbie, Angela (ed) (1988): Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses: An Anthology of Fashion and Music, Boston: Unwin-Hymen.

Miller, Daniel (1987): Material Culture and Mass Consumption, New York: Blackwell.

Miller, Daniel (ed.) (1998): Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, Consumption and Space, London: UCL Press. doi: 10.4324/9780203167014

Miller, Daniel (2008): The Comfort of Things, Cambridge: Polity.

Munn, Nancy (1986): The Fame of Gawa: A Symbolic Study of Value Transformation in a Massim (Papua New Guinea) Society, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Myers, Fred R. (ed) (2001): The Empire of Things: Regimes of Value and Material Culture, Albuquerque: School of American Research Press.

Norris, Lucy (2010): Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Norris, Lucy (2012): ‘Trade and Transformations of Secondhand Clothing: Introduction’, Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 10:2, 128-143. doi: 10.2752/175183512X13315695424473

Ottosson, Erik (2008): Söka sitt: om möten mellan människor och föremål, Uppsala: Etnologiska avdelningen, Uppsala universitet.

Reynolds, Simon (2011): Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its own Past, London: Faber & Faber.

Scholte, Jan A. (2005): Globalization: A Critical Introduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Strathern, Marilyn (1988): The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, Berkeley: University of California Press. doi: 10.1525/california/9780520064232.001.0001

Straw, William (2010): ‘Spectacles of Waste’, Alexandra Boutros & William Straw (eds): Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture, Montreal:McGill-Queens University Press.

Thomas, Nicholas (1991): Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Thompson, Michael (1979): Rubbish Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tranberg Hansen, Karen (2000): Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia, University of Chicago Press.

Tsing, Anna (2000): ‘The Global Situation’, Cultural Anthropology, 15:3, 327-360. doi: 10.1525/can.2000.15.3.327

Tsing, Anna (2013): ‘Sorting out Commodities: How Capitalist Value is made through Gifts’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3:1, 21–43. doi: 10.14318/hau3.1.003

Türe, Meltem (2014): ‘Value-in-Disposition: Exploring how Consumers Derive Value from Disposition of Possessions’, Marketing Theory, 14:1, 3–72. doi: 10.1177/1470593113506245

Weiner, Annette (1976): Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives on Trobriand Exchange, Austin: University of Texas Press.

Weiner, Annette (1992): Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-while-Giving, Berkeley: University of California Press. doi: 10.1525/california/9780520076037.001.0001

Weiner, Annette (1993): ‘Cultural Difference and the Density of Objects’, American Ethnologist, 21:1, 391–403.

Primary Sources

Wennberg, Per (2014): ‘I Linneland’, Sköna Hem, 2012. Nr 6,

Wiman, Johanna (2014): ‘Göteborg Inspirerar’, Göteborgsposten, 6 December 2014,

Wrede, Eva (2014): ‘Med feeling för färg’, Hus & Hem, 2012. Nr 11. (accessed 15 January 15). (accessed 15 October 2014). (accessed 20 January 2015). (accessed 15 September 2014). (accessed 10 January 2015).




How to Cite

Appelgren, S. and Bohlin, A. (2015) “Growing in Motion: The Circulation of Used Things on Second-hand Markets”, Culture Unbound, 7(1), pp. 143–168. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1571143.



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