New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices
Advances in Ecological Economics series
Edited by Maurie J. Cohen, Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip J. Vergragt
Chapter 5: Welcome to the consumption line: sustainability, social organization and the wage- price gap
Consumption is the most everyday of acts. It is something we all do. It is a social phenomenon. And yet we typically understand it as a matter of individual action, using metaphors of choice, value and supply to describe its origin and aspiration. We are coming to understand that consumption has tremendous collective consequences for our economy, ecology and society. But we still have trouble understanding that the act of consumption is something that is socially organized, patterned by culture, economy, state and politics, and not merely an act of utilitarian satisfaction by a free-thinking and sovereign consumer. Some authors have even gone so far as to state outright that a focus on consumption is at best a distraction from the real stuff that moves our lives. As none other than Karl Marx (1956) wrote in the second volume of Das Kapital, ‘It is sheer tautology to say that crises are caused by lack of effective consumption, or effective consumers,’ referring to the Marxist theory of economic crisis.
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