The common thread running through these three chapters is definitely the issue of consumption. I think it has always fascinated me first of all because the society I grew up in was strongly characterised by consumption as language. I constantly saw it as a communication system, a way making the meanings circulate in our societies, diachronically comparable to the myths and the circulation of goods in primitive societies; and synchronically to the media and advertising. Ways of making the sense flow and ensuring a certain circulation of the information in a group. Secondly, it fascinated me as empirical challenge and resistance to the rationalisation of society in the Weberian sense. In other words, economic theories of choice are demonstrably poorly explanatory about consumption. Economic analyses, both heterodox and neoclassical, have always leaked a rationalism that in the best cases is reduced to methodological exigencies, in the worst ones it is blatantly ideological. I mean that, despite loving moral motivations, the heterodoxes expressed with the same code of the orthodoxes, trying to confute the latter’s position through their own language. Thus relying on the same idea of what is objective (and therefore scientific?) and what is not, without discussing the complexity implied by the concept of objectivity is in a social science. If this rationalisation, this operational fiction, can still be implemented at the level of material production (even if a whole theory of economic reproduction is missing), it becomes impossible for consumption; in the sense that it turn into a blatantly forced and not explanatory abstraction scheme. Consumption in fact has, and always had, an existential and anthropological dimension that cannot be ascribed to deterministic natural laws (Weber actually showed that even for the spirit of production such hypotheses can be made). The typical response of economics is that it is interested in the quantitative and not in the qualitative aspect of consumption. One of the aims of this thesis is to argue that such an abstraction is misleading, since the quality (the reasons for choice, the meaning/representation given to goods and services) influences the quantity and vice versa. So one reason why consumption fascinates me is definitely its ability to question the rationalisation typical of economics. Indeed, in consumerist societies, it tends to become ’an economy of meanings’, where hard work is confined to areas where it is cheap and consumption goes hand in hand with other imaginative/emotional creating activities (such as narratives and images) in generating economic value. Other general motivations leading me to explore this issue concern the central role of consumption in contemporary societies, now widely recognised by sociology and other social sciences. Indeed, it has been increasingly complementary to production both as a moral and as a means of defining the social identity of individuals: signs of consumption, media, and images are increasingly a place whereby value and identities are produced and through which companies characterise themselves. Consumption is also interesting in my opinion because of the blurring boundary with production that it has for contemporaries, especially from my generation onwards. The workforce becomes object of marketing, of merchandising. Thinking about social media, an individual unpacking a product (or using a service) in cam, to advertise it or himself, is consuming, but he is also working. Consumption provides the alibi to work while having fun, where ’having fun’ means consuming and therefore getting excited, proposing emotions, producing feelings. Professional reviewers, food bloggers, influencers, commercial agents, personal trainers (and other jobs that presuppose body care), tour operators who give tips on social networks without taking any of the risks typical of the classic intermediary; there are many examples of the mixing between consumption and production. Even the predisposition to work, i.e. the display of signs of predisposition (to work, sacrifice and so on) are indicators of the fact that production itself joined the consumption signs system. In other words, in today’s society, one not only works, but also does the act of working, of producing. Many jobs are to a lesser or greater extent influenced by a logic of consumption as a communicative system. Varying the title of a well-known Goffman’s essay in a performative key, one could say: ’the maximisation of the presentation of the self in every day life’. On the other hand, there is a parallelism between the moralities of consumption and of produc tion, in the sense that consumption as moral (of enjoyment), as fun morality (and not as desire fulfilment, because there is an ideological aspect in the fun morality, as there was in the Puritan work ethic) also provides the conditions for working, for producing. Put in another way, modern man can, and often prefers, to work by consuming than to work by working; there are many such possibilities in a society where people spend a lot of time on the media and, in general, where the logic of communication tends to invade the whole of social sphere, with its law of variability and its need of innovation to avoid semantic wear and tear. For instance, the attitude (or habitus) of frequently changing jobs and tasks, if not nation, in order to renew oneself and put oneself back into the game, is a sentiment that finds an ethical origin in the same consumption sign system as self-production and that translates into a collective attitude towards job-market mobility, mobility that ultimately serves a globalised production. This is not to say that there are not people who take pleasure in moving around, getting to know new places and changing jobs, but that statistically there is part of the population that undergoes this morality and internalises it ideologically. The etymology of consumption reveals an ambivalent and interesting nature on its own. The word comes from two Latin verbs that in Italian were confused by assonance: cons`umere which gives the sense of wearing out, reducing to nothing, and consummare (cum-summa) which instead means to finish, to accomplish, but in the sense of giving perfection and fulfilment. This is why consumption has been said to have a paradoxical nature (Silverstone (2000)). Insofar as on the one hand it refers to an individual fulfilling a desire, on the other hand it necessarily links enjoyment to wear, tear and destruction. As Aldridge (2003) writes: ”consumption is experienced by people as something that simultaneously offers possibilities and imposes constraints”. That is, on the one hand it is a mean of expression, but on the other hand we are bounded by the expressive code itself, i.e. goods/services. The paradox has also been declined by Appadurai (1988), who points out how in our societies we need to transform goods into commodities, to then ’demercify’, personalise them, expressing (or appropriating of) meanings in everyday life. Another trigger of this thesis is that the way consumption is theorised by economists is important because it has implications in terms of fiscal and environmental policies. I also agree with Mary Douglas when she writes that ”if we do not know why people need luxuries [i.e. goods beyond the needs of survival] and what use they make of them, we are a long way from taking the problems of inequality seriously. The first chapter is an essay on consumption and the method used is simply the exegesis of the text. The second is an agent-based application (models mainly used in the financial literature) to a sociological context and in particular to the sociology of consumption. The model shows how con sumption dynamics can be out of equilibrium without assumptions about the primary or secondary nature of goods and needs. The third is an empirical text analysis exercise applied to academic economics papers on consumption. The aim is to understand, mainly through language, which are (if any) the differences between orthodox (neoclassical/behavioral) and heterodox (mainly institu tionalist/behavioral) theories in analysing the topic.

Pietrini, F. (2022). Three essays on consumption.

Three essays on consumption

Filippo Pietrini
2022

Abstract

The common thread running through these three chapters is definitely the issue of consumption. I think it has always fascinated me first of all because the society I grew up in was strongly characterised by consumption as language. I constantly saw it as a communication system, a way making the meanings circulate in our societies, diachronically comparable to the myths and the circulation of goods in primitive societies; and synchronically to the media and advertising. Ways of making the sense flow and ensuring a certain circulation of the information in a group. Secondly, it fascinated me as empirical challenge and resistance to the rationalisation of society in the Weberian sense. In other words, economic theories of choice are demonstrably poorly explanatory about consumption. Economic analyses, both heterodox and neoclassical, have always leaked a rationalism that in the best cases is reduced to methodological exigencies, in the worst ones it is blatantly ideological. I mean that, despite loving moral motivations, the heterodoxes expressed with the same code of the orthodoxes, trying to confute the latter’s position through their own language. Thus relying on the same idea of what is objective (and therefore scientific?) and what is not, without discussing the complexity implied by the concept of objectivity is in a social science. If this rationalisation, this operational fiction, can still be implemented at the level of material production (even if a whole theory of economic reproduction is missing), it becomes impossible for consumption; in the sense that it turn into a blatantly forced and not explanatory abstraction scheme. Consumption in fact has, and always had, an existential and anthropological dimension that cannot be ascribed to deterministic natural laws (Weber actually showed that even for the spirit of production such hypotheses can be made). The typical response of economics is that it is interested in the quantitative and not in the qualitative aspect of consumption. One of the aims of this thesis is to argue that such an abstraction is misleading, since the quality (the reasons for choice, the meaning/representation given to goods and services) influences the quantity and vice versa. So one reason why consumption fascinates me is definitely its ability to question the rationalisation typical of economics. Indeed, in consumerist societies, it tends to become ’an economy of meanings’, where hard work is confined to areas where it is cheap and consumption goes hand in hand with other imaginative/emotional creating activities (such as narratives and images) in generating economic value. Other general motivations leading me to explore this issue concern the central role of consumption in contemporary societies, now widely recognised by sociology and other social sciences. Indeed, it has been increasingly complementary to production both as a moral and as a means of defining the social identity of individuals: signs of consumption, media, and images are increasingly a place whereby value and identities are produced and through which companies characterise themselves. Consumption is also interesting in my opinion because of the blurring boundary with production that it has for contemporaries, especially from my generation onwards. The workforce becomes object of marketing, of merchandising. Thinking about social media, an individual unpacking a product (or using a service) in cam, to advertise it or himself, is consuming, but he is also working. Consumption provides the alibi to work while having fun, where ’having fun’ means consuming and therefore getting excited, proposing emotions, producing feelings. Professional reviewers, food bloggers, influencers, commercial agents, personal trainers (and other jobs that presuppose body care), tour operators who give tips on social networks without taking any of the risks typical of the classic intermediary; there are many examples of the mixing between consumption and production. Even the predisposition to work, i.e. the display of signs of predisposition (to work, sacrifice and so on) are indicators of the fact that production itself joined the consumption signs system. In other words, in today’s society, one not only works, but also does the act of working, of producing. Many jobs are to a lesser or greater extent influenced by a logic of consumption as a communicative system. Varying the title of a well-known Goffman’s essay in a performative key, one could say: ’the maximisation of the presentation of the self in every day life’. On the other hand, there is a parallelism between the moralities of consumption and of produc tion, in the sense that consumption as moral (of enjoyment), as fun morality (and not as desire fulfilment, because there is an ideological aspect in the fun morality, as there was in the Puritan work ethic) also provides the conditions for working, for producing. Put in another way, modern man can, and often prefers, to work by consuming than to work by working; there are many such possibilities in a society where people spend a lot of time on the media and, in general, where the logic of communication tends to invade the whole of social sphere, with its law of variability and its need of innovation to avoid semantic wear and tear. For instance, the attitude (or habitus) of frequently changing jobs and tasks, if not nation, in order to renew oneself and put oneself back into the game, is a sentiment that finds an ethical origin in the same consumption sign system as self-production and that translates into a collective attitude towards job-market mobility, mobility that ultimately serves a globalised production. This is not to say that there are not people who take pleasure in moving around, getting to know new places and changing jobs, but that statistically there is part of the population that undergoes this morality and internalises it ideologically. The etymology of consumption reveals an ambivalent and interesting nature on its own. The word comes from two Latin verbs that in Italian were confused by assonance: cons`umere which gives the sense of wearing out, reducing to nothing, and consummare (cum-summa) which instead means to finish, to accomplish, but in the sense of giving perfection and fulfilment. This is why consumption has been said to have a paradoxical nature (Silverstone (2000)). Insofar as on the one hand it refers to an individual fulfilling a desire, on the other hand it necessarily links enjoyment to wear, tear and destruction. As Aldridge (2003) writes: ”consumption is experienced by people as something that simultaneously offers possibilities and imposes constraints”. That is, on the one hand it is a mean of expression, but on the other hand we are bounded by the expressive code itself, i.e. goods/services. The paradox has also been declined by Appadurai (1988), who points out how in our societies we need to transform goods into commodities, to then ’demercify’, personalise them, expressing (or appropriating of) meanings in everyday life. Another trigger of this thesis is that the way consumption is theorised by economists is important because it has implications in terms of fiscal and environmental policies. I also agree with Mary Douglas when she writes that ”if we do not know why people need luxuries [i.e. goods beyond the needs of survival] and what use they make of them, we are a long way from taking the problems of inequality seriously. The first chapter is an essay on consumption and the method used is simply the exegesis of the text. The second is an agent-based application (models mainly used in the financial literature) to a sociological context and in particular to the sociology of consumption. The model shows how con sumption dynamics can be out of equilibrium without assumptions about the primary or secondary nature of goods and needs. The third is an empirical text analysis exercise applied to academic economics papers on consumption. The aim is to understand, mainly through language, which are (if any) the differences between orthodox (neoclassical/behavioral) and heterodox (mainly institu tionalist/behavioral) theories in analysing the topic.
Pietrini, F. (2022). Three essays on consumption.
Pietrini, Filippo
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11365/1213874