A Social and Economic Theory of Consumption by Kaj Illomen

By Kaj Illomen

Kaj Ilmonen used to be a pioneer within the 3rd wave of the sociology of intake. This book provides a balanced review of the sociology of intake, arguing that the passion of 'the 3rd wave' exaggerated the function of the symbolic and imaginary on the cost of the materiality of human societies.

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However, there can be no demand for commodities unless they are perceived by consumers as objects of their needs, as use values. The use value of a commodity, whether real or imaginary, can only be harnessed to the consumer’s purposes after exchange has taken place. It follows that use value is not an economic category in the first place, but it attaches consumption to civil society – its everyday activities and varied social microspace. Consumption represents the point of intersection between the economy and everyday life.

10 ‘Positive’ or personal freedom means more or less the same as what nowadays is called empowerment. It is the ability to lead one’s life according to one’s own views and values, to be the captain of one’s life, to be an agent who can always choose to do otherwise. However, this notion of freedom must not be favoured because neo-liberalism says it may give rise to opposition against the current type of market economy and to a critical attack on society. ‘Proper’ neo-liberal personal freedom is only achieved when it is voluntarily restricted or when it can be used to further administrative goals.

Even in the stock exchange, where money knows no morality, investment decisions are based on ritualistic customs and interpretations of information gathered from social networks. 13 The aim of the decision is obviously not to achieve a Pareto optimum at the overall level of the national economy, but to keep the decision-makers, in one way or another, involved in the market game (Beckert 1996, 821). In referring to market agents I have made no distinction here between business decision-makers, on the one hand, and consumers of business products, on the other.

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