Chapter 14: Aesthetic and ethical orientations in consumption and lifestyles
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When deciding to purchase a particular car, for instance, most consumers will consider the price and technical equipment of various alternatives. But apart from this, consumers might also reflect on their design and/or eco-compatibility. Put differently, consumption decisions are not only a function of economic or functional value, but also of aesthetic and ethical considerations. They are influenced by evaluations as to which products are beautiful and good, or ugly and bad. While sociology has paid increasing attention to the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles in recent decades, for the most part, research has either dealt with their formal-aesthetic or the ethical-moral aspects, without much cross-fertilization. In this chapter, we argue, in contrast, that lifestyles are structured by both aesthetic and ethical orientations. The impact and overlap of each of these two orientations, however, is likely to vary between different domains of consumption. Therefore, we theoretically analyze the connections between ethical and aesthetic orientations, consumption, and lifestyles. We locate the debate on aesthetics and ethics in the two classical sociological accounts of consumption, put forward by Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Further, we discuss recent empirical findings on the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles. Finally, we provide a quantitative analysis of the relative importance of aesthetic and ethical orientations for a broad range of consumption behaviors, including cultural consumption, media consumption, food, sports, and housing. We find that the majority of these behaviors are collectively shaped by aesthetic and ethical orientations, although aesthetic orientations are the dominant structuring factor of consumption.

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