The Sociology of Consumption
falls into four parts: a discussion of the origins of the call for a sociology of .. on the issue of the relationship between production and consumption, class and. The Sociology of Consumption is armed with a range of concepts that are capable of conceptualising how resource intensive and focused on the production of “mass culture.” .. explain a lack of relationship between high. This short paper considers some themes in the sociology of consumption from the production is directly for consumption and therefore the relation between . what are required are modes of articulating production and consumption that are .
Production is not only simultaneously consumption, and consumption simultaneously production; nor is production only a means of consumption and consumption the purpose of production — i. It is only consumption that consummates the process of production, since consumption completes the product as a product by destroying it, by consuming its independent concrete form.
Moreover by its need for repetition consumption leads to the perfection of abilities evolved during the first process of production and converts them into skills.
Consumption is therefore the concluding act which turns not only the product into a product, but also the producer into a producer.
Production, on the other hand, produces consumption by creating a definite mode of consumption, and by providing an incentive to consumption it thereby creates the capability to consume as a requirement. The last kind of identity, which is defined in point 3, has been variously interpreted by economists when discussing the relation of demand and supply, of objects and needs, of needs created by society and natural needs. After this, nothing is simpler for a Hegelian than to assume that production and consumption are identical.
And this has been done not only by socialist belletrists but also by prosaic economists, such as Say, in declaring that if one considers a nation — or mankind in abstracto — then its production is its consumption. Storch has shown that this proposition of Say's is wrong, since a nation, for instance, does not consume its entire product, but must also provide means of production, fixed capital, etc. It is moreover wrong to consider society as a single subject, for this is a speculative approach.
With regard to one subject, production and consumption appear as phases of a single operation. Only the most essential point is emphasised here, that production and consumption, if considered as activities of one subject or of single individuals, appear in any case as phases of one process whose actual point of departure is production which is accordingly the decisive factor. Consumption, as a necessity and as a need, is itself an intrinsic aspect of productive activity; the latter however is the point where the realisation begins and thus also the decisive phase, the action epitomising the entire process.
An individual produces an object and by consuming it returns again to the point of departure: Consumption is thus a phase of production. But in society, the relation of the producer to the product after its completion is extrinsic, and the return of the product to the subject depends on his relations to other individuals.
The product does not immediately come into his possession. Its immediate appropriation, moreover, is not his aim, if he produces within society. Distribution, which on the basis of social laws determines the individual's share in the world of products, intervenes between the producer and the products, i. Is distribution, therefore, an independent sector alongside and outside production?
As to capital, it is evident from the outset that this is counted twice, first as a factor of production, and secondly as a source of income; i.
Interest and profit appear therefore in production as well, since they are forms in which capital increases and grows, and are thus phases of its production. As forms of distribution, interest and profit presuppose capital as a factor of production.
They are forms of distribution whose pre-condition is the existence of capital as a factor of production. They are likewise modes of reproduction of capital. Wages represent also wage-labour, which is examined in a different section; the particular function that labour performs as a factor of production in the one case appears as a function of distribution in the other. If labour did not have the distinct form of wage-labour, then its share in the product would not appear as wages, as for instance in slavery.
Finally rent — if we take the most advanced form of distribution by which landed property obtains a share in the product-presupposes large-scale landed property strictly speaking, large-scale agriculture as a factor of production, and not land in general; just as wages do not presuppose labour in general.
The relations and modes of distribution are thus merely the reverse aspect of the factors of production. An individual whose participation in production takes the form of wage-labour will receive a share in the product, the result of production, in the form of wages. The structure of distribution is entirely determined by the structure of production.
Distribution itself is a product of production, not only with regard to the content, for only the results of production can be distributed, but also with regard to the form, since the particular mode of men's participation in production determines the specific form of distribution, the form, in which they share in distribution. It is altogether an illusion to speak of land in the section on production, and of rent in the section on distribution, etc. Economists like Ricardo who are mainly accused of having paid exclusive attention to production, have accordingly regarded distribution as the exclusive subject of political economy, for they have instinctively treated the forms of distribution as the most precise expression in which factors of production manifest themselves in a given society.
To the single individual distribution naturally appears as a social law, which determines his position within the framework of production, within which he produces; distribution thus being antecedent to production.
An individual who has neither capital nor landed property of his own is dependent on wage-labour from his birth as a consequence of social distribution. But this dependence is itself the result of the existence of capital and landed property as independent factors of production.
When one considers whole societies, still another aspect of distribution appears to be antecedent to production and to determine it, as though it were an ante-economic factor.
A conquering nation may divide the land among the conquerors and in this way imposes a distinct mode of distribution and form of landed property, thus determining production. Or it may turn the population into slaves, thus making slave-labour the basis of production.
Or in the course of a revolution, a nation may divide large estates into plots, thus altering the character of production in consequence of the new distribution. Or legislation may perpetuate land ownership in certain families, or allocate labour as a hereditary privilege, thus consolidating it into a caste system. In all these cases, and they have all occurred in history, it seems that distribution is not regulated and determined by production but, on the contrary, production by distribution.
Distribution according to the most superficial interpretation is distribution of products; it is thus removed further from production and made quasi-independent of it. But before distribution becomes distribution of products, it is 1 distribution of the means of production, and 2 which is another aspect of the same situation distribution of the members of society among the various types of production the subsuming of the individuals under definite relations Of production.
It is evident that the distribution of products is merely a result of this distribution, which is comprised in the production process and determines the structure of production. To examine production divorced from this distribution which is a constituent part of it, is obviously idle abstraction; whereas conversely the distribution of products is automatically determined by that distribution which is initially a factor of production.
Ricardo, the economist of production par excellence, whose object was the understanding of the distinct social structure of modern production, for this very reason declares that distribution, not production, is the proper subject of contemporary political economy. This is a witness to the banality of those economists who proclaim production as an eternal truth, and confine history to the domain of distribution. The question as to the relation between that form of distribution that determines production and production itself, belongs obviously to the sphere of production.
If it should be said that in this case at least, since production must proceed from a specific distribution of the means of production, distribution is to this extent antecedent to and a prerequisite of production, then the reply would be as follows.
Production has indeed its conditions and prerequisites which are constituent elements of it. At the very outset these may have seemed to be naturally evolved. In the course of production, however, they are transformed from naturally evolved factors into historical ones, and although they may appear as natural pre-conditions for any one period, they are the historical result of another period. They are continuously changed by the process of production itself.
For example, the employment of machinery led to changes in the distribution of both the means of production and the product. Modern large-scale landed property has been brought about not only by modern trade and modern industry, but also by the application of the latter to agriculture.
The above-mentioned questions can be ultimately resolved into this: This question clearly belongs to the analysis and discussion of production. In the trivial form, however, in which these questions have been raised above, they can be dealt with quite briefly. Conquests may lead to either of three results. The conquering nation may impose its own mode of production upon the conquered people this was done, for example, by the English in Ireland during this century, and to some extent in India ; or it may refrain from interfering in the old mode of production and be content with tribute e.
In any case it is the mode of production — whether that of the conquering nation or of the conquered or the new system brought about by a merging of the two — that determines the new mode of distribution employed. Although the latter appears to be a pre-condition of the new period of production, it is in its turn a result of production, a result not simply occasioned by the historical evolution of production in general, but by a specific historical form of production.
The Mongols, for example, who caused devastation in Russia, acted in accordance with their mode of production, cattle-breeding, for which large uninhabited tracts are a fundamental requirement. The Germanic barbarians, whose traditional mode of production was agriculture with the aid of serfs and who lived scattered over the countryside, could the more easily adapt the Roman provinces to their requirements because the concentration of landed property carried out there had already uprooted the older agricultural relations.
It is a long-established view that over certain epochs people lived by plunder. But in order to be able to plunder, there must be something to be plundered, and this implies production. Moreover, the manner of plunder depends itself on the manner of production, e. The means of production may be robbed directly in the form of slaves.
But in that case it is necessary that the structure of production in the country to which the slave is abducted admits of slave-labour, or as in South America, etc. Laws may perpetuate a particular means of production, e. These laws acquire economic significance only if large-scale landed property is in keeping with the social mode of production, as for instance in Britain.
Agriculture was carried on in France on a small scale, despite the existence of large estates, which were therefore parcelled out by the Revolution. But is it possible, e. Landed property tends to become concentrated again despite these laws. The influence exercised by laws on the preservation of existing conditions of distribution, and the effect they thereby exert on production has to be examined separately. Lastly, Exchange and Circulation Circulation is merely a particular phase of exchange or of exchange regarded in its totality.
Since Exchange is simply an intermediate phase between production and distribution, which is determined by production, and consumption; since consumption is moreover itself an aspect of production, the latter obviously comprises also exchange as one of its aspects.
Firstly, it is evident that exchange of activities and skills, which takes place in production itself, is a direct and essential part of production. Secondly, the same applies to the exchange of products in so far as this exchange is a means to manufacture the finished product intended for immediate consumption. The action of exchange in this respect is comprised in the concept of production.
Thirdly, what is known as exchange between dealer and dealer, both with respect to its organisation and as a productive activity, is entirely determined by production. Exchange appears to exist independently alongside production and detached from it only in the last stage, when the product is exchanged for immediate consumption. But 1 no exchange is possible without division of labour, whether this is naturally evolved or is already the result of an historical process; 2 private exchange presupposes private production; 3 the intensity of exchange, its extent and nature, are determined by the development and structure of production: All aspects of exchange to this extent appear either to be directly comprised in production, or else determined by it.
The conclusion which follows from this is, not that production, distribution, exchange and consumption are identical, but that they are links of a single whole, different aspects of one unit. Production is the decisive phase, both with regard to the contradictory aspects of production and with regard to the other phases. The process always starts afresh with production. That exchange and consumption cannot be the decisive elements, is obvious; and the same applies to distribution in the sense of distribution of products.
Distribution of the factors of production, on the other hand, is itself a phase of production. A distinct mode of production thus determines the specific mode of consumption, distribution, exchange and the specific relations of these different phases to one another. Production in the narrow sense, however, is in its turn also determined by the other aspects. For example, if the market, or the sphere of exchange, expands, then the volume of production grows and tends to become more differentiated.
Production also changes in consequence of changes in distribution, e. Production is, finally, determined by the demands of consumption. There is an interaction between the various aspects. Such interaction takes place in any organic entity.
It would seem to be the proper thing to start with the real and concrete elements, with the actual preconditions, e.
Closer consideration shows, however, that this is wrong. Population is an abstraction if, for instance, one disregards the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn remain empty terms if one does not know the factors on which they depend, e. These presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc.
For example, capital is nothing without wage-labour, without value, money, price, etc. If one were to take population as the point of departure, it would be a very vague notion of a complex whole and through closer definition one would arrive analytically at increasingly simple concepts; from imaginary concrete terms one would move to more and more tenuous abstractions until one reached the most simple definitions.
From there it would be necessary to make the journey again in the opposite direction until one arrived once more at the concept of population, which is this time not a vague notion of a whole, but a totality comprising many determinations and relations.
The first course is the historical one taken by political economy at its inception. The seventeenth-century economists, for example, always took as their starting point the living organism, the population, the nation, the State, several States, etc. When these separate factors were more or less clearly deduced and established, economic systems were evolved which from simple concepts, such as labour, division of labour, demand, exchange-value, advanced to categories like State, international exchange and world market.
The latter is obviously the correct scientific method. The concrete concept is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects. It appears therefore in reasoning as a summing-up, a result, and not as the starting point, although it is the real point of origin, and thus also the point of origin of perception and imagination. The first procedure attenuates meaningful images to abstract definitions, the second leads from abstract definitions by way of reasoning to the reproduction of the concrete situation.
Hegel accordingly conceived the illusory idea that the real world is the result of thinking which causes its own synthesis, its own deepening and its own movement; whereas the method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete is simply the way in which thinking assimilates the concrete and reproduces it as a concrete mental category.
This is, however, by no means the process of evolution of the concrete world itself. For example, the simplest economic category, e. Exchange-value cannot exist except as an abstract, unilateral relation of an already existing concrete organic whole. But exchange-value as a category leads an antediluvian existence. Thus to consciousness-and this comprises philosophical consciousness — which regards the comprehending mind as the real man, and hence the comprehended world as such as the only real world; to consciousness, therefore, the evolution of categories appears as the actual process of production — which unfortunately is given an impulse from outside — whose result is the world; and this which is however again a tautological expression is true in so far as the concrete totality regarded as a conceptual totality, as a mental fact, is indeed a product of thinking, of comprehension; but it is by no means a product of the idea which evolves spontaneously and whose thinking proceeds outside and above perception and imagination, but is the result of the assimilation and transformation of perceptions and images into concepts.
The totality as a conceptual entity seen by the intellect is a product of the thinking intellect which assimilates the world in the only way open to it, a way which differs from the artistic, religious and practically intelligent assimilation of this world.
The concrete subject remains outside the intellect and independent of it — that is so long as the intellect adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude. The subject, society, must always be envisaged therefore as the pre-condition of comprehension even when the theoretical method is employed. But have not these simple categories also an independent historical or natural existence preceding that of the more concrete ones? Hegel, for example, correctly takes ownership, the simplest legal relation of the subject, as the point of departure of the philosophy of law.
No ownership exists, however, before the family or the relations of master and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations. It would, on the other hand, be correct to say that families and entire tribes exist which have as yet only possessions and not property.
The simpler category appears thus as a relation of simple family or tribal communities to property. In societies which have reached a higher stage the category appears as a comparatively simple relation existing in a more advanced community. The concrete substratum underlying the relation of ownership is however always presupposed. One can conceive an individual savage who has possessions; possession in this case, however, is not a legal relation.
It is incorrect that in the course of historical development possession gave rise to the family. Money may exist and has existed in historical time before capital, banks, wage-labour, etc. In this respect it can be said, therefore, that the simpler category expresses relations predominating in an immature entity or subordinate relations in a more advanced entity; relations which already existed historically before the entity had developed the aspects expressed in a more concrete category.
The procedure of abstract reasoning which advances from the simplest to more complex concepts to that extent conforms to actual historical development. It is true, on the other hand, that there are certain highly developed, but nevertheless historically immature, social formations which employ some of the most advanced economic forms, e.
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In Slavonic communities too, money — and its pre-condition, exchange — is of little or no importance within the individual community, but is used on the borders, where commerce with other communities takes place; and it is altogether wrong to assume that exchange within the community is an original constituent element.
On the contrary, in the beginning exchange tends to arise in the intercourse of different communities with one another, rather than among members of the same community. Moreover, although money begins to play a considerable role very early and in diverse ways, it is known to have been a dominant factor in antiquity only among nations developed in a particular direction, i. Even among the Greeks and Romans, the most advanced nations of antiquity, money reaches its full development, which is presupposed in modern bourgeois society, only in the period of their disintegration.
Thus the full potential of this quite simple category does not emerge historically in the most advanced phases of society, and it certainly does not penetrate into all economic relations. For example, taxes in kind and deliveries in kind remained the basis of the Roman empire even at the height of its development; indeed a completely evolved monetary system existed in Rome only in the army, and it never permeated the whole complex of labour.
Although the simpler category, therefore, may have existed historically before the more concrete category, its complete intensive and extensive development can nevertheless occur in a complex social formation, whereas the more concrete category may have been fully evolved in a more primitive social formation.
Labour seems to be a very simple category. The notion of labour in this universal form, as labour in general, is also extremely old. The Monetary System, for example, still regards wealth quite objectively as a thing existing independently in the shape of money. Compared with this standpoint, it was a substantial advance when the Manufacturing or Mercantile System transferred the source of wealth from the object to the subjective activity — mercantile or industrial labour — but it still considered that only this circumscribed activity itself produced money.
In contrast to this system, the Physiocrats assume that a specific form of labour — agriculture — creates wealth, and they see the object no longer in the guise of money, but as a product in general, as the universal result of labour.
In accordance with the still circumscribed activity, the product remains a naturally developed product, an agricultural product, a product of the land par excellence.
It was an immense advance when Adam Smith rejected all restrictions with regard to the activity that produces wealth — for him it was labour as such, neither manufacturing, nor commercial, nor agricultural labour, but all types of labour. The abstract universality which creates wealth implies also the universality of the objects defined as wealth: How difficult and immense a transition this was is demonstrated by the fact that Adam Smith himself occasionally relapses once more into the Physiocratic system.
It might seem that in this way merely an abstract expression was found for the simplest and most ancient relation in which human beings act as producers — irrespective of the type of society they live in. This is true in one respect, but not in another.
The fact that the specific kind of labour is irrelevant presupposes a highly developed complex of actually existing kinds of labour, none of which is any more the all-important one. The most general abstractions arise on the whole only when concrete development is most profuse, so that a specific quality is seen to be common to many phenomena, or common to all.
Then it is no longer perceived solely in a particular form. This abstraction of labour is, on the other hand, by no means simply the conceptual resultant of a variety of concrete types of labour. The fact that the particular kind of labour employed is immaterial is appropriate to a form of society in which individuals easily pass from one type of labour to another, the particular type of labour being accidental to them and therefore irrelevant.
Labour, not only as a category but in reality, has become a means to create wealth in general, and has ceased to be tied as an attribute to a particular individual.
This state of affairs is most pronounced in the United States, the most modern form of bourgeois society. The simplest abstraction, which plays a decisive role in modern political economy, an abstraction which expresses an ancient relation existing in all social formations, nevertheless appears to be actually true in this abstract form only as a category of the most modern society.
It might be said that phenomena which are historical products in the United States — e. But in the first place, there is an enormous difference between barbarians having a predisposition which makes it possible to employ them in various tasks, and civilised people who apply themselves to various tasks.
As regards the Russians, moreover, their indifference to the particular kind of labour performed is in practice matched by their traditional habit of clinging fast to a very definite kind of labour from which they are extricated only by external influences. The example of labour strikingly demonstrates how even the most abstract categories, despite their validity in all epochs — precisely because they are abstractions — are equally a product of historical conditions even in the specific form of abstractions, and they retain their full validity only for and within the framework of these conditions.
Bourgeois society is the most advanced and complex historical organisation of production. The categories which express its relations, and an understanding of its structure, therefore, provide an insight into the structure and the relations of production of all formerly existing social formations the ruins and component elements of which were used in the creation of bourgeois society.
Some of these unassimilated remains are still carried on within bourgeois society, others, however, which previously existed. The anatomy of man is a key to the anatomy of the ape. On the other hand, rudiments of more advanced forms in the lower species of animals can only be understood when the more advanced forms are already known. Bourgeois economy thus provides a key to the economy of antiquity, etc.
But it is quite impossible to gain this insight in the manner of those economists who obliterate all historical differences and who see in all social phenomena only bourgeois phenomena.
If one knows rent, it is possible to understand tribute, tithe, etc. Since bourgeois society is, moreover, only a contradictory form of development, it contains relations of earlier societies often merely in very stunted form or even in the form of travesties, e.
Thus, although it is true that the categories of bourgeois economy are valid for all other social formations, this has to be taken cum grano salis, for they may contain them in an advanced, stunted, caricatured, etc. What is called historical evolution depends in general on the fact that the latest form regards earlier ones as stages in the development of itself and conceives them always in a one-sided manner, since only rarely and under quite special conditions is a society able to adopt a critical attitude towards itself; in this context we are not of course discussing historical periods which themselves believe that they are periods of decline.
The Christian religion was able to contribute to an objective understanding of earlier mythologies only when its self-criticism was to a certain extent prepared, as it were potentially. Similarly, only when the self-criticism of bourgeois society had begun, was bourgeois political economy able to understand the feudal, ancient and oriental economies.
In so far as bourgeois political economy did not simply identify itself with the past in a mythological manner, its criticism of earlier economies-especially of the feudal system against which it still had to wage a direct struggle-resembled the criticism that Christianity directed against heathenism, or which Protestantism directed against Catholicism.
Just as in general when examining any historical or social science, so also in the case of the development of economic categories is it always necessary to remember that the subject, in this context contemporary bourgeois society, is presupposed both in reality and in the mind, and that therefore categories express forms of existence and conditions of existence — and sometimes merely separate aspects — of this particular society, the subject; thus the category, even from the scientific standpoint, by no means begins at the moment when it is discussed as such.
This has to be remembered because it provides important criteria for the arrangement of the material. For example, nothing seems more natural than to begin with rent, i. But nothing would be more erroneous. There is in every social formation a particular branch of production which determines the position and importance of all the others, and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine the relations of all other branches as well.
It is as though light of a particular hue were cast upon everything, tingeing all other colours and modifying their specific features; or as if a special ether determined the specific gravity of everything found in it. Let us take as an example pastoral tribes. Tribes living exclusively on hunting or fishing are beyond the boundary line from which real development begins.Karl Marx & Conflict Theory: Crash Course Sociology #6
A certain type of agricultural activity occurs among them and this determines land ownership. It is communal ownership and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, according to the degree to which these people maintain their traditions, e.
Among settled agricultural people-settled already to a large extent-where agriculture predominates as in the societies of antiquity and the feudal period, even manufacture, its structure and the forms of property corresponding thereto, have, in some measure, specifically agrarian features. Manufacture is either completely dependent on agriculture, as in the earlier Roman period, or as in the Middle Ages, it copies in the town and in its conditions the organisation of the countryside.
In the Middle Ages even capital — unless it was solely money capital — consisted of the traditional tools, etc. The reverse takes place in bourgeois society. Agriculture to an increasing extent becomes just a branch of industry and is completely dominated by capital.
The same applies to rent. In all forms in which landed property is the decisive factor, natural relations still predominate; in the forms in which the decisive factor is capital, social, historically evolved elements predominate.
Rent cannot be understood without capital, but capital can be understood without rent. Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion and it has to be expounded before landed property. After analysing capital and landed property separately, their interconnection must be examined.
It would be inexpedient and wrong therefore to present the economic categories successively in the order in which they have played the dominant role in history.
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It is precisely the predominance of agricultural peoples in the ancient world which caused the merchant nations — Phoenicians, Carthaginians — to develop in such purity abstract precision. For capital in the shape of merchant or money capital appears in that abstract form where capital has not yet become the dominant factor in society. Lombards and Jews occupied the same position with regard to mediaeval agrarian societies. However, a search within sociology, or of the indexes of introductory sociology textbooks, would show almost the complete reverse.
Adding to this baffling situation is the fact that a similar examination of continental, especially British, sociology would yield a completely different picture. There is a very lively sociology of consumption in Great Britain with a steady production of books and journal articles on the subject Gabriel and Lang, ; Miles, ; Slater, ; Urry, This is the case in spite of the fact that Great Britain comes nowhere close to the United States in terms of the creation of new consumer goods for example, innovations in computer hardware and softwarethe sites in which to consume them mega- and cyber- malls, for exampleand the means by which to pay for the goods and sometimes gain entry to the sites credit cards, among others.
British sociologists seem much more animated by consumption than their American counterparts, especially the invasion of Great Britain by American consumer goods, sites and means of payment Bryman, How do we account for the comparative silence of American sociologists on the issue of consumption and the relative din on the subject from Great Britain?
The fact that there is an active sociology of consumption in Great Britain and elsewhere such as Australia [Corrigan, ] casts doubt on the idea that the American silence is traceable to the discipline's productivist history since if that were the cause, one would expect British sociologists and others to be similarly affected. That British sociologists have been better able to overcome that bias than their American peers may be traceable to the fact that it is easier to become concerned about a foreign invasion of consumer items than it is to focus on the indigenous production of those same items.
As a result, it may be easier for British sociologists to view consumption as a "social problem" and to focus attention on it. Another factor in the greater attention to consumption in Great Britain is the fact that culture of which consumption is a significant component became a focal concern there before American sociologists began to recognize its significance.
Similarly, postmodern social theory with its view that consumption defines postmodern society Featherstone, attracted attention and has since declined before the recent growth in interest in that theory in the United States.
On the American side, the very success of American sociology made it easier for its adherents to miss the significance of a new social trend like the growing importance of consumption.