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Consuming wellness, producing difference: The case of a wellness center in India

Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


Over the past decade, there has been a discernible rise in the number of wellness centers and fitness studios in urban cities in India. These centers are spatial manifestations of the rise in a particular type of "self-care" regimes and "body projects" in modern social imaginary prevalent in urban India, predominantly enabled by the rise of middle-class consumer culture. While the literature on fitness spaces and wellness clubs in Western contexts is instructive to a very large extent, the local particularities of consumption experiences in non-Western contexts require contextualized empirical research in order to better inform modern theories of consumption. This article is a study of a wellness center in the South Indian city of Chennai. Using ethnographic methods, I attempt to unpack the experience of consuming wellness in a space that ostensibly claims to remedy the ills of modern living while doing so in a culturally traditional and "Indian" manner. I show how the experiences of predominantly middle-class consumers here are dictated not by a sentimental attachment to tradition or locality, but by a vocabulary of speaking that primarily favors a language of consumer choice and rational decision-making. Whether or not that is the case, the way in which consumption of an "Indian" brand of wellness occurs demonstrates the stronghold of the language of consumer choice making the space at the wellness center a performative arena for self-identity formation to occur.